Ten years. In some respects, it seems an eternity. In others, the blink of an eye. So much reflection and remembrance has been perpetrated on this inauspicious anniversary that I hesitate to add to the cacophony. But I’m a writer and I write about things. Sometimes, I write about things like this.
I don’t know what it was like to be in New York City or Pennsylvania or Washington, DC on that day and I don’t want to write about that. I do know what it was like to be in my town on that day and I don’t want to write about that either. Nor do I want to discuss terrorism or politics or a costly decade of war.
We all know, and probably will never forget, how it felt to be wherever we were on that day, how it felt to see the things we saw. We don’t need anyone to remind us.
What strikes me as worth noting, as being different now from what it was then is the degree to which events have become personal despite the barrier of distance. The degree to which we all have become intimately connected, known to one another, familiar. How the internet, more so than radio or television or print media, has intensified not just our perception of events but also our regard and concern for each other.
Because even as we remember that day, we know full well there have been other days, memorable days. Days seared into our mind’s eye with indelible laser-like clarity. And yet, those were days that for most of us were graced, if you will, with a certain distance. A distance that is becoming increasingly negligible.
I will never forget the day I watched coverage of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. I didn’t know anyone who lived there, then. Now I do.
I will never forget the day I watched televised images of massive earthquake-loosened sections of freeway pancaked down onto cars and people in California. I didn’t know anyone who lived there, then. Now I do.
I will never forget the day I saw pictures of the bloodied bodies of slain school children in Colorado. I didn’t know anyone who lived there, then. Now I do.
I will never forget the day, after day after day after day, as I watched news reports of Hurricane Katrina and the stunning neglect of our government ravaging the city and people of New Orleans. I didn’t know anyone who lived there, then. Now I do.
And I will never forget the day, ten years ago, when I watched commercial airplanes used as weapons. Back when blogs were rare and twitter didn’t exist. I had not yet met my friend who works in DC. I did not yet know my friend whose family lives in PA. I had not yet conversed in 140 characters with people who live in NYC. I didn’t know anyone who lived there, then. If you’re reading this blog, I didn’t know you, then.
Now I do.
It makes a difference.
Maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe it’s wrong to imagine being more deeply affected by distant tragedy due to a personal connection. It certainly makes it no more or less tragic to those directly involved. But that’s human nature. As horrible and gut-wrenchingly painful as it was to witness those events from a distance, it would have been so much worse had I known, then, the people I know now. And I can’t help but think that if more of us were connected on a global scale, if more of us were personally known and, by association, accountable to each other, we’d have less tragedy and loss of the man-made variety over which to grieve.
Or maybe we’d just have more reason to regard each other with contempt and distrust.
No. I’ve resolved to be more positive. Sorry, easier said than done.
On this day of remembrance and looking back, I choose instead to look forward with cautious optimism at a world that is gradually becoming more connected. And to offer my sincere hope that, wherever you are, there will never come a day, a memorable day, when for whatever unspeakable reason I will find myself wishing, however fleetingly, that I still had the selfish luxury of saying, “I didn’t know you, then.”
14 responses to “I didn’t know you, then”
Words fail me today. Thank God they didn’t fail you. Well said my friend. Well said.
Thank you, both.
This is one of those posts where I feel emotionally naked and vulnerable afterward and wonder whether maybe it would be best to delete it immediately.
As always, the perfect words. Thank you sharing such insight and truth.
Never delete. One of the things I’ve heard repeatedly today is that we all connected that one day. 115 countries lost citizens, yet on that day they were all New Yorkers. I knew people there, then. I know more people now. The Internet does connect us. Tragedy bonds us. Compassion unites us.
Thank you, you put into words the way I feel.
Please don’t delete it. You said everything I wanted to say! And you did it so well! Never doubt yourself.
It’s something I try to explain to my parents. Their generation cannot conceive of how I might be connected to people I’ve never met. How I can feel such a strong bond of friendship with someone I’ve never seen. How can it be real? they ask me. It can, and it is. I just know some day you and I will meet in person at some writing conference or something and it will be like we already know each other. All because of the internet :-). And how cool is that?!
Thank you, everyone, for the kind words. I’m glad it resonated with you. And no, I won’t delete it. It wasn’t a matter of being uncertain about what I said, more that I was questioning whether I had a right to say it. I mean, who am I to talk about what happened in these places. I’ve never been there. But maybe that’s the point.
Melinda, I have had the experience of meeting several of my imaginary friends in person and that is exactly how it feels. You expect it might be awkward and it’s just not. Very cool, indeed.
I reread a statement originally put out by my Faith just after the tragedy talking about how the world is becoming our neighborhood because of the technology we have now. And this can be a good thing. Like you said, “And I can’t help but think that if more of us were connected on a global scale, if more of us were personally known and, by association, accountable to each other, we’d have less tragedy and loss of the man-made variety over which to grieve.” Not only that, but if we know each other better, there are fewer differences to fear.
Jaleh, I agree. I don’t understand people who fear those who are different — I think the differences just make people more interesting — but I know it’s one of the things at the root of distrust and even hatred. I remember when protesters in Wisconsin were conducting sit-ins earlier this year and I heard about people in Cairo, Egypt calling a local (Wisconsin) pizza place and paying to have pizza delivered to the protesters. This would have been remarkable under any circumstances, but with all that was going on in Egypt at that time, it was stunning. Things like that restore my faith in humanity and give me hope.
And re your comment on the last post, good luck with the new job! Here’s hoping the snow won’t keep you inside too much this winter. Although I wouldn’t mind a day or three of not being able to venture out…
I mostly avoided reading about or watching tv on Sunday. Or at least I tried to. But I’m not saying it the remembrances were wrong either. Life moves too fast these days and we forget things far too quickly. Too many important events have become a paragraph in a history book that kids will forget as soon as they’ve read it. If they bothered reading it. I sometimes feel as if I’m the only person who didn’t sleep through history class. So it’s good that we take one day and impress on the next generation that something major happened and why it’s important that they remember it and pass that memory along.
That said, the reason I stayed away from the news Sunday isn’t because it’s a bad memory (Did I really not know you then? How can that be?) but because we haven’t yet learned to remember the event without resurrecting the anger and rhetoric. The irony is that we refer to violent acts as terrorism, but that’s not true. Terrorism is a mindset that exists before it escalates into violence. It’s what you have when you allow the anger, hatred, rhetoric, manipulation and lies to fester until it becomes something that one group uses to glorify itself. And it’s not just other cultures, religions or nations allowing that to happen. We do a fine job of that.
Yeah, I got political. Sorry.
McB, I had the same reaction when I realized I didn’t know certain people back then. Seems like we’ve known each other forever.
I think you’ve really cut to the heart of my aversion to watching news coverage on that day as well. Yes, of course, we need to remember. Lives were lost. Not just of innocent bystanders but also of those who responded with almost unimaginable selflessness and heroism. What I object to is when that remembrance is used as a vehicle to inflame and enrage and add to the “fear” or to encourage more violence. And so much of the rhetoric I heard (the random parts I couldn’t avoid) was doing exactly that. You’re right, violence doesn’t erupt out of nowhere. Terrorism is that thing that invokes fear, whether as a catalyst or as a response. And you’re also right that we here in the US do a fine job of it ourselves.
Honestly, I don’t think you got political at all. And I would have been perfectly fine with it if you had — you know that. Or you should. Your comment was well thought out and rational. Something I consider to be the antithesis of “getting political.” We need more people who are willing to offer an intelligent analysis of events and who are willing to point out that this kind of thing is increasingly becoming inappropriate political fodder. That’s not getting political, that’s being a responsible citizen.
And now I’m laughing at myself because I think I just got waaay more political than you did.
And I MEANT to say but forgot (long day) that I watched Rachel Maddow earlier and she was interviewing President Carter and I was struck once again by what a gentleman and diplomat he is. A man who genuinely seems to value finding common ground, however small it might be, and achieving even reluctant agreement between dissenting parties. It’s just a core deep part of who he is, something that is not only overlooked but scorned these day. What a shame. And I couldn’t help but wonder how our reaction as a nation 10 years ago would have differed had he been president. Not saying it would have been better or worse, but certainly it would have been different. I find that interesting.