The last perfectly average day…

September 11I 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.

Getting above the bullshit…

Everyone has a few items that fall into the “don’t leave home without it” category – wallet, watch, phone, keys, knife, whatever is in your pockets every day when you walk out the door. It’s the stuff that you turn around and go back for even when you’re already halfway to work on a Monday morning. I’m no different, except I tote one thing that has absolutely no actual functional purpose whatsoever. The only reason I keep this one thing close is that it serves as physical reminder to me of a couple of universal truths.

CoinMy 1900 Morgan silver dollar doesn’t have any great intrinsic value. You can pick them up on eBay for $20-odd bucks, but every time I run my thumb across the rim of the coin I remember that “my” Morgan came to life in Philadelphia 78 years before I was born and unless I trip and fall into an forge or smelter, it’s going to be here long after I’m gone. The men who minted it in 1900 all had important jobs. They had their worries and their troubles. They swore, they fought, they loved, and they lived more or less the same way we do. The biggest difference between them and us is every single person involved with minting “my” Morgan is dead and gone as has been for probably half a century. I’m willing to bet that not one person reading this can tell me a single thing about the life they led, the work they did, or the dreams they dreamed. It’s almost tragic, except it’s really not once you’ve had a chance to think on it.

What’s the lesson here for us? Hell, I don’t know. It could be there isn’t a lesson. I like to think the big “so what” of it all is that this Morgan dollar reminds me not to get too worked up about the shit I can’t control – the briefings that flop, the jackass three offices down, the one great love who got away, whatever it is you spend your days dwelling on. In 114 years, there won’t be anyone around who remembers any of that.

Now, this isn’t your kindly Uncle Jeff giving you a blank check to go out into the world and rape, pillage, and burn, because nothing matters. In fact, this little dollar coin sends me in just the opposite direction. You see, the boys in Philly left us with what is arguably the most recognizable coin ever produced in this country. That’s what what remember them for – not whatever petty bullshit they had to deal with from day to day. I think that’s the higher purpose. We owe it to ourselves and to the future to find our “big thing” and make sure we’re not so beaten down by the bullshit that we lose sight of it.

I’m pretty sure I’m finding my big thing, slowly, word by word. So the next time you see me with a 1000-yard stare and my hand in my pocket, just know that I’m communing with some long gone Philadelphians. The gears are turning and I’m trying to remind myself to get above the daily bullshit. Some days it works, some days it doesn’t, but I’m trying. I’m trying. Maybe that’s all that really matters.

So we may always be free…

I could post a diatribe about the significance of today’s date and the implications of what we’ve done right and what we’ve done wrong since the morning of September 11, 2001, but I suspect most of you know how I feel, and we all know how I hate repeating myself when it isn’t necessary.

In some ways we are safer than we were on that day and in others we are more at risk. I seriously doubt that we can ever really secure our society against those who value death more than life. Yet today, five years on, we still walk freely down our streets, still eat at the corner restaurants, and order our latte’s without abject fear of being blown to kingdom come for our trouble. Can it happen? Of course it can. It happens in Israel. It happened in England and Northern Ireland during the worst of the troubles. It happened in dozens of two-bit dictatorships over the years, too. But today, we are still free. We are still brave. And despite the best efforts of a madman bent on our destruction, we are still here.

To borrow a quote from President Reagan speaking at the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasion: “We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so we may always be free.”