The first major historical event of my lifetime was probably the resignation of President Nixon. I was just shy of three years old when that happened, and I have utterly no memory of it. In fact, I have no memory of President Ford, either. The first historical figure of whom I have any distinct memory is President Carter. Thus, the first five years of history through which I lived does not exist for me as memory. They're just pages in the history books, no less so because I lived through them than they are for my daughter who did not.
And for her, 9-11-01 will be the same way. I'll be able to describe to her the incredible sadness of that day; I'll be able to tell her where I was when I heard the news begin to unfold; I'll be able to relate how the news got worse and worse and worse. I'll be able to tell her how, for three days afterward, the skies were clear and unbroken by jet-plane contrails as air traffic was halted. I'll be able to tell her about Buffalo firemen standing in every intersection, taking donations for their brethren in NYC. All that and more, I'll be able to tell her. But it will never be as real for her as it was and is for me. For her, it will be like the Kennedy assassination or Nixon resignation are for me, and how Pearl Harbor was for my parents (Dad was two, Mom was four months).
We tell ourselves that we must never forget, that we must keep the pain real, that we must never allow those terrible moments to recede into history like everything else. But we fool ourselves if we think we can. September 11, 2001 is already receding into history, faster than we realize. And I believe that this is as it should be.
There have been so many horrible days in our nation's history, days when the darkness seemed ready to overwhelm us and threaten the very fabric of our nation. Each time, America has moved on, incorporating the bad days into the tapestry of its history. There will come a time when September 11, 2001 will be just another seminal event in history, more known than remembered. And it won't be a hundred years from now. It's already starting.
I've seen some complaints, online and off, that we aren't doing enough to mark the occasion. Perhaps it's unseemly to many that NBC should air reruns of its Thursday night lineup on such a momentous day, and in truth, it does seem odd to me that not a single prime-time special is devoted to the 9-11-01 anniversary, even though I don't believe that all three networks should devote their entire schedules to it. If this year's observance is less-than-satisfying, I'm still one who found last year's "All 9-11, all the time" approach, even in the days preceding the actual date, to be simply too much. I suppose that I no longer wish to partake in public mourning; and it does not strike me as particularly healthy to try each year to recapture or regenerate the anger and shock and desperation of that day.
For myself, I plan to do much as I did last year. I'll read some American poetry, listen to some American music, and perhaps watch an American movie or an American television show. It just seems right to me to take a bit of time to reflect on American cultural artifacts tomorrow, since it was not just America but American culture that was attacked two years ago. That is how I choose to remember and honor those who died: by reminding myself that America is still here, that our contributions to the world and our species are real, and that they will last far, far longer than Osama Bin Laden's hatred ever possibly can - - even if he crashes a thousand planes into our thousand tallest buildings.
There is more sanctity - - true sanctity, that which celebrates beauty in the face of a harsh world and an unforgiving universe - - in a Gene Kelly dance number, in a Frank Lloyd Wright building, in a Lerner-and-Loewe song, in the taste of a grilled hot dog, in the crack of a baseball bat, in the spiral of a perfectly-thrown football, and in a Robert Heinlein short story than there are in the hearts of a million terrorists who are prepared to immolate themselves and a thousand innocents in the name of a hating God.