It’s the first year that the anniversary didn’t hang over everything I do. I’m still aware of it, I’ll always be aware of it, but time and distance and some amount of willful disbelief have dimmed the sharpness of the remembrance.
On the afternoon of September 11th, 2001, and especially on September 12th, I wasn’t only sad. I was also hopeful. I wanted to believe that we wouldn’t just Never Forget that we would also Always Remember. People were already insisting that we’d put aside our differences and come together, and maybe the part that I’m most bittersweet and wistful about was that I really believed it. I’d turned 26 years old just a few days before the attacks, and I realize in retrospect that maybe that moment, as I eased from my mid-twenties to my late twenties, was the last time I’d be unabashedly optimistic about something, even amidst all the sorrow.
After that, things were more often cloudy than clear. That day, I knew who the bad guys were, but wanted to know that all of us who were the good guys were on the same side. I miss the clarity.
But I’ve let it go. There won’t be another moment when people aren’t picking sides. Maybe it’s just human nature, but we’re unwilling to accept nuance and tolerate each other despite our differences, except for a very brief window when we’re still in shock. Today “Never Forget” only exists as a marketing slogan for various political advocacy efforts. And it’s not as if I can forget — just last week I was listening to a random playlist and the tune that came up was the one I’d used as my solace on the day of the attacks, and my heart still lept into my throat, my chest still got tight. That part will probably never go away. But that’s hardly the same as Never Forgetting.
I don’t mean to sound bitter; Maybe there’s something great about the fact that we are so rambunctious and willful and stubborn that even our greatest tragedies ultimately can’t force us to stop being so ornery and human. Maybe staying in that moment too long means never living in the now.
Somehow, though, I still miss the idealism and hope that were the best things that came out of the worst days. I’m hoping that’s the part I’ll never forget.
From years past: