As we all awaken this morning and go about our various Sunday routines, many of us might exhibit a certain measure to our movements, a distracted focus, a subtle awareness—of something, in the distance.
Ten years is a long time, a lifetime in many ways, for many of us. So much can and does happen in a decade that it simply can’t be reproduced within the boundaries of an internet article. Not for lack of effort, however—you needn’t struggle to find an opinion, an insight, a dedication, or a theory on something related to 9/11 in the media today, or over the course of the last couple of weeks…or the last ten years, for that matter. If you want an angle, any angle on 9/11, it seems that all you have to do these days is look. Which is perfectly acceptable—it’s what we humans do—we examine. And we do it with tenacity. It’s part of who we are—something we can’t change about ourselves.
I’ve probably read at least a hundred or more 9/11-based accounts in the last week—from all categories of media, across all levels of education, perspective, and intention. We are a nation obsessed with recognizing the significance of historical moments—honoring them, distinguishing them, and comprehending them. We do it so we can cope. We do it so we can learn. We do it so we can eventually move on. It’s part of the life fabric.
Ten years ago today, within about an hour of the time this post went live, we were barely in motion at various jobs—many of us still stuck in traffic. Others around the country were getting ready for work, or school, or nothing at all—when the picture that we called everyday normal life literally exploded in front of us. The scene that followed was defined (for years) by its alacrity—a scene of towers falling; a frenzied war effort (still simmering); a historic economic collapse (still festering); a technological Renaissance; an equally historic political shift; the slow continuance of the collapse, the war effort, and the hideous merger of the two; pervasive corporate fraud; the realization that historical significance does not a president make (even one left with an utter disaster to make sense of); environmental and political disarray (both closely related); and an odd consumer-driven spend-a-thon that seemingly knows no bounds, and has somehow managed to stay above water even within the continued collapse. In some ways, everything has changed. In other ways, nothing has.
In many ways, 9/11, and its immediate aftermath, as well as its gradual development over the years, says everything about us—it defines us; it’s the leviathan metaphor just beneath the skin of every modern American. How it happened, why it happened, when it happened, and what happened afterward—9/11 tells the story of this country in the twenty-first century—for better or worse. Which is why there is an unceasing archive of sorts, both digital and print, accumulating around us, in recognition of the last ten years. We are tenacious examiners. But, for all the incessant scrutiny, are we ultimately capable of climbing up out of the frenzy and defining ourselves anew?
Myriad accomplishments, events, and happenings—both enormous and minute—all interwoven within a ten-year tapestry—is what we carry with us into the next decade, and beyond. What will the next ten years bring? Considering the pace of change, adjustment, and overall evolution of the last decade, it’s hard to even speculate as to what awaits us in the next two years, let alone ten, or twenty. And what type of Americans will we become in the face of it?
Looking back, I feel almost as if I just finished a sprint—barely edging out my competition—only having to cool down and refocus because I now have to run another, longer sprint, against even faster competition. So much happened, so fast, between September 11th, 2001, and today. I can’t remember a time in my life where such a precise reality was still so close to the surface, on so many levels for me, for us, and yet so much time had passed since its occurrence. I think we’re still just scratching that surface—as to how transformative that day truly was. And for my generation—Gen X—I sometimes think that we’ll simply live out our days affixed between eras: pre- and post-9/11.
We are perhaps one of the most unique generations in history—the exclusive possessors of a direct link to both the pre-digital age and the omnipresent interface of technological “now.” No generation before us or after us will be able to lay claim to such an exquisite duality—and the certain irreplaceable qualities we possess as a result of it. If anyone should be prepared for what we can only guess is to come, it is most certainly us. We have the modern capacity to digest the ever-changing complexities that constantly emerge in front of us, and the appreciation and understanding of a time when life moved along just fine without any of it. Perhaps we’re holdovers, hiding in plain sight, in real-time—or perhaps we are, and will only ever be, the blatant definers of our time. Either way, we possess a massive responsibility as it applies to the future of this nation.
Are we now better Americans—ten years later? Better humans—since 9/11? Is all of the conflict, the political tumult, the unremitting self-absorption, the indulgence, the rabid obsession with riches and personal gain, and the evaporation of restraint, discretion, and composure all a necessary evil within the new post-9/11 America? Or can we take what we’ve learned and create a better future—one not laden with the shortcomings of a nation placated, uninformed, misguided, and unwilling to cooperate? Will we allow that monumental day in our history, and its multi-layered volatility, to envelop our own efforts and destinies, or will we reach out and pull one another from the mayhem, and find a better way forward?
This is the lesson of 9/11, inevitably. It tested us then; it tests us now—perhaps even more so. It continues to ask us who we are, what we’re made of, and who we can be. We are wildly alive within the themes of the day—entwined within the rungs of the ladder that leads up and out of the conventional past and into the enlightened, workable, sustainable future. As with every era, we’re left with the present—the delicate pedestal between what was and what will be. It is imperative that we address our choices, our actions, and our decisions with passion and intelligence. For in the blink of an eye, what was once part of a magical future, just out of reach, will be locked within the bounds of an unchangeable past.