[On the anniversary of 9/11, I wrote the following meditation…It’s a little strange, but the times were still rather strange. I tried to get it printed in a paper or something, but that never happened. I recently found it when I was transferring my archives to a new computer, and not a moment too soon, what with the 6 year anniversary bearing down on us. –HJ]
A brief note.
I spent most of September 11, 2002 at home. I was tempted to watch the coverage of the 9/11 anniversary memorials airing on all the local networks, but when I did, I heard nothing new. Only more of what we have heard every day for the past year. I did not want to another high dose of it, especially after the week of reminders leading up to the first anniversary.
On the one-month anniversary of the attacks, the sense shared by everyone I talked to about it was how rapidly the last month had passed, which I now take to mean how vivid and raw the shock of it all remained. Now, one year on, I find myself wondering where the year went, and I still have not managed to comprehend what happened. I know I can’t and likely won’t. This is not because I feel distanced from the day, but because of my proximity to it. The day looms so large it is as if I am standing at the foot of a skyscraper and staring straight up, so close to the wall that I cannot grasp the building’s size and measure myself against it. I only sense that it is incomprehensibly large and beside it I am insignificant. I feel as if I am standing in a shallow crater on the moon, trying to gauge distances: Is that a rock at the lip of the crater, or is it the tip of a mountain 500 miles away?
No other event in American history has been so singularly violent, so unanticipated, so unforeseeable, so devastating, or so widely witnessed as last year’s terrorist attacks. Not even the attack on Pearl Harbor, which drew America into history’s bloodiest global conflict; most Americans’ response to reports that the Pacific fleet had been attacked at Pearl Harbor was “Where’s Pearl Harbor?” On December 7th, 1942, one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans knew exactly who they were at war with because the enemy’s planes were plainly marked and their governments had openly declared war against us. They knew exactly which pieces of property the enemy occupied and would have to be pushed off of. They knew exactly who to shoot by the color of enemy uniforms. And, lastly, they knew exactly how the war would end if we won-signed agreements of unconditional surrender from the Axis governments.
No such war could be more dissimilar from the one that we currently find ourselves waging. Every American knows where New York is and who works at the Pentagon. The planes that attacked us were marked “American” and “United”. No government has declared war against us. We do not know where our enemy is. They don’t wear uniforms. How will we know we won’t be attacked again? In WWII, the end was always in sight. The war in Europe would end when the Allies took Berlin, and the Pacific conflict would end in Tokyo. Nobody knew how long it would take the Allies to reach these cities, but Americans always knew exactly how far they had to go in order to end the war, and this knowledge allowed them to measure their progress toward unconditional surrender.
Our objective in this war cannot be found on a map; “homeland security” is a far less tangible goal than “Berlin” or “Tokyo”-it is one we can only know when we haven’t reached it. Homeland security is a destination that we can see poking above the horizon as we stand in the pit at Ground Zero, but we have no idea of how long it will take us to reach it or what we’ll find when we get there, whether we will have a rock at our feet or stare up from the foot of an impossibly high mountain. Perhaps both. I don’t think anyone alive today will ever be able to comprehend what happened on 9/11, only that we must pursue an inscrutable point on the horizon. I find it unlikely, however, that time will begin again until we can see that we are making progress. It has been September 11, 2001 for a year now. How long until the 12th?