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.”