9/11 BEFORE AND AFTER
Just as previous generations remember where they were when they heard about Pearl Harbor (Probably on the radio. We weren’t born yet). Or where they were when JFK (Virginia—in the library of Fillmore Junior H.S. in Buffalo checking out books for the weekend. Donna--in Sister Helen's second grade class. The nuns were crying so we knew something was wrong.), Dr.King ( Virginia—on the campus of Fisk University in Nashville, listening to sirens and shots that were far too close. Donna had just come home from junior high and was alone, in front of the TV.), and Bobby Kennedy (Virginia—at home in Buffalo, NY, in my living room with my family watching as it unfolded on television. Donna--the same, but in Brooklyn, NY) were assassinated. The minutest details of what transpired in our lives on those ordinary days—the moment before and the moment after we heard the news—are branded in our memory because those events changed us—both singularly and as a culture—forever. We can mark time as before and after.
About ten years ago there was a movie called Before and After. Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson played the parents of a teen accused of murdering his girlfriend. Their reactions to the crisis are completely opposite. Though the subject matter and the inciting incident are not at all the same as the events of 9/11, the film pointed out how irrevocably, and differently lives can be altered by a single shattering event. And especially how the incident divides time into “pre” and “post.”
Six years ago we all became those parents. Our memories of THAT DAY are unique, specific, indelible and for better and worse, life altering.
A simple example—
Before—We were in our separate homes that morning, full of excitement and anticipation, and yakking on the phone about what we were going to wear, as we prepared for lunch in the City with our editor and publicist. We were going to talk about PR and marketing plans for the paperback release of Far From the Tree. We loved those lunches (at swank restaurants with hard to get reservations. You can order whatever your heart desires, with no concern for the bill.) Those afternoons, can feel giddy—like we’ve stepped into the power-lunch scene from a movie, which is very different from our day-to-day writerly existence. But there was no lunch THAT DAY. What clothes we put on didn’t matter because we never left our homes. We each tried to account for those we thought could have been in lower Manhattan, and got calls from friends and family who were concerned for our safety. And we tried to make space in our reality for this incomprehensible event.
After—We were both blessed that none of our immediate loved ones were killed or injured on 9-11, although there were some eerily close calls. But there hasn’t been another of those lunches since, where the memory of THAT DAY hasn’t crossed, however transiently, one or both of our minds. We both try not to schedule meetings or travel on the 11th of September. It still doesn’t feel right. Will that ever go away? Probably. Our worlds don’t stop moving any more on November 22, April 4 or June 5 so eventually the specific date may lose it’s power, but life will still never be the same.
Today, like it was on that 9-11, we are not together—Virginia is at home in New Jersey, Donna in Brooklyn, but we each woke slowly—fully aware of what day it was. We had an ear to the radio (Donna) and an eye on the TV (Virginia) as commentators, reporters, family members, first responders, poised to commemorate, spoke about THAT DAY. But we remember. How can we not? We can all see those towers collapse—and rise only to collapse again and again and again—thanks to the media. Will that ever go away? Will the phantoms of terror—WMD, Osama, Saddam, Iraq ever go away? Or is fear and Homeland Insecurity here to stay? We remember what it was like before Richard Reid totally f__ked up travel for pretty much every human being on the planet. But will taking off your shoes and carrying your toiletries in a baggie become as natural for the next generation as having a telephone in your pocket?
Yes, things change—or look like they have (history is proof that little is different). Time and distance affect perspective. But should we remember for the sake of remembering? Or remember so we do better the next time, instead of the same or worse.
Maybe that’s the question we should ask someone who’s been there—a parent, grandparent, a neighbor or someone who survived Hiroshima, Darfur, Kristallnacht or Trail of Tears...Did we ever get it right—after?