I remember growing up hearing stories about where people in my parent’s generation were when President Kennedy was assassinated. My grandparent’s generation could tell you where they were on a Sunday in December when news broke of a sneak attack on America’s fleet in the Pacific. To me, those dates and names were pages in a history book. I was too young then to appreciate that these events weren’t dusty history to the men and women who lived through them. They were visceral, living parts of their life’s narrative.
As each year we’re further removed from the shock and disbelief of a September morning. For more and more of our citizens, September 11th is just one more of those dates that mark an historical reference point rather than a life experience. For those of us who lived through it and the days that followed, though, I have an increasing suspicion that the day will always feel a bit like current events – a recent memory, still very much alive and tangible.
The stories of where we were, what we were doing, and who we were with will probably always be seared into our individual and collective memories for as long as one of us remains to tell it. The confusion at first report, the wide mouthed disbelief at seeing the second plan burrowing in, the continuous loop of smoke rising from the Pentagon, and two buildings that crumbled in front of us are were a clarion call to arms, to unity, and to remind us that our long experiment in democracy was and remains surrounded by those who would snuff it out.
Seventeen years on, it’s a punch to the gut I can feel just as strongly today as I did all those years ago. Over all the long years from then to now, we sought justice and rough vengeance, we rebuilt, thousands of families found the internal fortitude to go on living and endure, but most important, on this day and always, we remember.
It took about 36 hours before Facebook posts started trickling onto my feed implying that anyone who mentioned the attacks in Paris without talking about attacks that also took place in Lebanon, Nigeria and Baghdad, earthquakes in Japan, and all other manner of very bad things that happen every day around the world was a hate-spewing bigot.
The fact is, bad things happen all over the world every day. What makes Paris different, to me, is personal and simple. I’ve walked the streets of Paris. I’ve drank coffee in her cafes and rested my head in her hotels. I stood at the base of the Arc de Triomphe imagining the 24-wide mass of the US 28th Infinity rounding the monument and parading down the Champs Élysées when the city was liberated from German occupiers. I’ve stood on the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower and marveled like millions of other tourists at a city that was already a millennia old when our own country was founded.
In the French people America found its first ally in our struggle for independence from the British crown and one of our harshest critics during the Cold War and years that followed. Here, now, in the 21st century, France and America are once again marching towards the sound of the guns and a foe who has stated loudly and often the intention to kill as many of our people as possible and drag the whole world back to the 7th century.
It’s different because on September 11th, 2001 the French people stood with America on what was the most shocking and appalling day in living memory for most of us. It’s different because in this new war the great democracies of the Western world must stand together or risk facing a new dark age sweeping across the globe like a plague.
You can choose to believe I think it’s different just because I share the same pale skin tone with many in France, but I know better.
1. LED lights. Apparently the previous owner of my house had a stash of incandescent bulbs. I wish I’d have known that before we closed so I could have asked him to throw them in with the sale. Now those “leftover” bulbs are failing at the rate of about one a week and I’m trying to replace them with LED bulbs as much as possible. The projected energy savings is a nice perk, but I’m really a fan of the idea that it could be 10 years or more before I need to replace the bulb again. It should be an easy enough process; go to store, buy appropriate wattage replacement, install as needed. It should be, but it’s not. There’s apparently no such thing as a “60-watt bulb” anymore. Now you’ve got bizarrely small wattages, concerns about the right “color temperature,” lights that change color all together, bulbs with built in speakers, and remote controls. Great. That’s lovely, but honest to God all I want to do is go out and buy a basic light that will sit there and look like the old GE 60-watt incandescent that we’ve used since humanity got around to “capturing” electricity… and I’d like to not pay $14.97 for the privilege.
2. “Banning” the Dukes of Hazzard. Look gang, I don’t like the fact that some pansy executive decided to take a 40 year old televisions show out of rotation because the way a car was decorated might offend some viewer’s sensibilities. That being said, it was a business decision. No one “banned” the Duke boys. You can’t blame this one on POTUS, the government, or anything other than a TV network trying to avoid having people send them a raft full of letters and calling them damned dirty racists. Not a decision I’d have made if I were the TV Land Vice President for Commercial Programming, but you’ve got to stop running around saying something was “banned” when it wasn’t. It makes you sound like a moron.
3. Shark attacks. It may come as a surprise to many people, but sharks (for the most part) live in the ocean. They can often be found feeding in the same shallow areas along the surf line where people tend to congregate in the summer months. If you decide to jump in to the shark’s natural environment understand that you are assuming a risk wherein you are no longer the apex predator. The natural advantages we humans have on land don’t lend themselves to the water. Life is all about assuming (and trying to mitigate) risk in everything that you do. It’s a game of chance and percentages. Even in North Carolina the chance that you the individual swimmer are going to become the main course are awfully slim when you consider just how many people are in the water with you. I haven’t run the numbers, but I’d bet that the drive to get to the beach is far more likely to end in a fatality. Just something to think about as the media get themselves up in arms about sharks just doing what they do.
I don’t remember a damned thing about September 10, 2001. It must have been a perfectly average Monday. I was a second year teacher just trying to get through the week – or more likely trying to get through until Thursday and pint night at the Green Door.
America went to bed that night a nation more or less at peace with the world – victors of the Cold War and long past the 100 hour ground war in Iraq – we contented ourselves with international peacekeeping and the occasional cruise missile strike. We collectively went to sleep not knowing what would happen a few hours later. We went to sleep not knowing we were already at war and that the enemy wasn’t coming for us from across the ocean, it was already here living amongst us. For a few more hours, ignorance was bliss.
Not long after dawn, thirteen years ago tomorrow, the enemy came out of a vivid blue sky, targeting indiscriminately men and women and children and killing our kin and countrymen in their thousands.
I don’t remember anything about the 10th of September, but I remember almost everything about the day that came after it. If I let it the whole thing can spool through my memory like a newsreel. When I think about it now, especially today, the anniversary of the last day that was perfectly average, the sting and loss and anger all come back. It’s just like it happened yesterday.
That’s for the best. So many are bent on forgetting – on reinventing a past that never existed – that those of us who lived through it owe it to ourselves and to the next generation to never forget what we saw and what actually happened on those days in September. As for me, I’ll never forget. I’ll never forgive those who did it or those who supported them and who support them still. At every opportunity I’ll call for my country to be vigilant, to take the war to the enemy, and to beat back the gathering international darkness using every element of our national power.
We’ve all most likely seen the last of our perfectly average days. From here on out I’m afraid we’re destined to live in interesting times.
A quarter mile from house I stopped this afternoon to help a guy pull two dogs off his collie. I could tell just rolling up on it that his pup was getting worked over and he either had the good sense or lacked the stones to do more than yell and flail his arms like a eight year old girl. Of course my critique of him isn’t the point.
I saw one of those two loose dogs yesterday afternoon running the neighborhood. What I didn’t see yesterday was the foot of broken cord on her collar, telling me that she wasn’t just a dump and run, but she is probably from somewhere relatively local. Fortunately, she was docile and let me chase her off without putting up a fight. The male was more aggressive. He had the collie pinned and tried turning on me as soon as I got my hands on his collar. Now I didn’t have any intention of getting bit myself and God knows I wasn’t going to let go, but I’m not proud of saying I rang his bell with a size twelve Doc Marten under the chin. Wild as he was, I still feel bad about that. At least it stunned him long enough to reconsider his options. He backed off and let the guy to retrieve his dog.
It was obvious from the look of them that they belong to someone. They weren’t thin, but from the look of things, the female of the pair had a litter waiting for her somewhere. She was bold enough to come over for a nuzzle, but wouldn’t let me get close enough to wrangle her before running off. I hope these two find their way home sooner rather than later. I don’t really know what else is to be done, but I’ll give animal control a call tomorrow during business hours so maybe they’ll stand a chance of getting picked up rather than flattened.
With all that said, I think everyone reading this knows I’m as big an animal lover as you’re likely to find. I love furry critters far more than I love people. I don’t blame them for being loose or aggressive. I blame the owner – the asshat who obviously left at least one strong 50-pound dog tied out at the end of a piece of cheap paracord. I hope those two find their way home even if that’s to people who don’t deserve them, because if they make it to this side of the hill and try to tangle up with either of the two that live here, I won’t be anywhere near as dainty as the guy with the collie.
As Pearl Harbor Day slid past more or less unnoticed by the vast bulk of the country last week, my mind set off wondering how long it would take for the anniversary of the great traumatic events of our lifetime to be considered “just another day” on the calendar. Pearl Harbor was one of, if not the defining event of our grandparent’s generation – the clarion call that freedom itself was imperiled across the globe. In their millions, that generation answered the call and rolled Japanese imperialism back across the Pacific and stomped out Nazi fascism in Europe. They did the impossible because the only other choice was to accept a world where the very idea of personal liberty was an endangered species.
Seventy-two years later, when we collectively remember Pearl Harbor, it’s as grainy newsreel footage or from three inch pictures in a textbook. We remember it as a singular event and not as part of a grand, sweeping epoch of history that saw democracy in the world fighting for its survival. Worse, we see those events as something so far removed from our daily lives that they might as well have been made up by Hollywood.
Like the attack on Pearl Harbor for our grandparents, for us the terrorist attack on New York and Washington are slowly slipping into history. Even now, students in our nation’s high schools are too young to have first hand memories of that clear morning in September. How long do you suppose it will be before that too is something confined to the pages of history and 20-second “filler” clips on the news channels?
We owe it to ourselves and to the future to be better stewards of our history. They should know as much as possible about the world they’re inheriting. We’re not doing anyone any favors when we play down or neglect the sacrifices of the past. If I can be so bold as to paraphrase one of the great heroes of my youth – We must always remember. We must always be proud. We must always be prepared, so we may always be free.
We’ve simply poured out too much blood and too much treasure for landmark dates to pass as just another day.
“We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so we may always be free.” – President Ronald Reagan, commemorating the 40th Anniversary of D-Day.
Those words commemorate a different conflict for a different generation, but the sentiment remains. Going on with our lives is the natural way of things. None of us should be expected to live forever in the darkest shadows of that day twelve years ago… but still, we owe it to ourselves and to generations yet to come to remember that we live in a world where those who hate us will use any means at their disposal to do us grievous harm. We’ll go on with life, because that’s as it should be. We’ll go on, as we have following every trial and tribulation, but we will remember. Always.