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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11 Generation

I wrote this post last year on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. I think it's still appropriate.


A few months after September 11th when the horrors of that day had receded into ache and outrage, my son came up to me and said, “You know, Grandma and Grandpa had December 7th, and you and Mom had November 22nd, but until September 11th I hadn’t experienced a defining moment in time.”

It’s been ten years since 9/11 and I’m still thinking about his comment. He seemed to be saying that 9/11 was a generational event. “It’s an anchor in time,” my son said when questioned further. “I’ll always know where I was and what I was doing when the towers came down and those planes flew into the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.”

In that regard I understood what he meant. I wasn’t around at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, but I was eleven when Kennedy was assassinated. Like most folks, I still remember where I was when I heard the news—fifth grade at Jefferson School, late afternoon just before the bell ended classes that day. The announcement came over the intercom, and I was scribbling in my notebook and not paying attention until I heard our teacher sobbing and looked up to see her covering her face with her hands. I remember walking home from school thinking, What does it mean? I still wonder.


So when my son said September 11th left him with something I thought, What does he mean? The events of that day resulted in a bone-chilling tragedy of great complexity but for my son it represented something more. But was it generational? I felt traumatized by 9/11 as well, and I’m a generation removed from my son. Do we need tragedies to anchor us in time? Are we drifting on the wind like Forrest Gump’s feather until something bad grabs us and shakes us to our core, something so dreadful that it transcends time? Why can’t moments of happiness traumatize us for the better?


As I think about it, I realize that my son was right, but not in the way I thought. September 11th was a generational moment, not because it belonged to a single generation—young people like my son—but because it was a trans-generational moment shared by everyone with the capacity to feel pain and loss, revere heroism and respond to the suffering of the innocent. That dreadful day made us think about our loved ones in a different way. It blurred the differences between young and old, forced us to examine our lives and our actions and bound all of us into a powerful force for good—the 9/11 generation.


Tomorrow: Conclusion of Giant Killer


26 comments:

  1. Exactly. This is spot on. Excellent reminder of what we should be focusing on, but alas we often don't.

    Have a terrific day. :)

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  2. The truth of such events like these is that I have a friend who has a 10-year-old kid that has no idea what 9/11 even is. Why do I bring this up? Education in our country is LACKING.

    So what does this mean?

    Well we have adults right now that don't believe the Holocaust ever happeened.

    We have politicians that deny evolution is real.

    We have kids that are not being taught about 9/11. Give them a few years. They'll insist it was all staged on a sound stage at some point in the far future.

    The sadness never ends, does it?

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  3. I was only one when President Kennedy was shot so I don't remember anything about it, other than what I learned in school. I do remember where I was when President Reagan got shot, and I definitely remember where I was on 9/11/2001. I also remember local tragedies that happened in my small town community growing up. Three stand out the most to me, as several teens lost their lives or were seriously injured in each one of them. The thing that stands out the most to me is the way things such as this bring people together. People let go of petty thoughts and are kind to one another. It is a shame that it takes tragedy for this to happen.

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  4. "Why can’t moments of happiness traumatize us for the better?" I've often thought of this myself. As indelibly as the events of 9/11 are etched into my memory, I would love to have the happiest memories etched the same way into our collective memories. If that were so, then perhaps we could find more common ground in our humanity.

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  5. Great post and wonderfully written.

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  6. I loved your question about "tragedies anchoring us in time", and often feel that they do. Anniversaries are always so poignant too--I was just thinking this morning that it's so weird I can always remember anniversaries of deaths, traumas, etc., but not specific dates of anything good usually...

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  7. I hope with time our remembrance of that day will be to think of it as an honor to those who were responders and to the national resilience we shared and that spirit of togetherness and recovery.
    To remember in that way gives the day a true memorial to those who perished and suffered and does so in a way to affirm a positive. This seems a better way to remember 9/11 than continuing to remember in a manner that gives memory to zealots of death and suffering. We can always mourn, but we should "sanctify" the day as a tribute to prevailing and serving.

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  8. You are absolutely right about 9/11 being trans-generational. Every age group was touched in some profound way by the images that were running 24/7 in it's aftermath. A very polarizing time in our history.

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  9. Yes, exactly. And good can't traumatize us for the better because our "learn early to run from critters that want to eat you" genes have programmed us to remember bad better and more easily than good. Which is sometimes a shame.

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  10. Spot on. I was four when Kennedy was killed. I don't remember learning that he had been killed, but I remember the funeral procession playing on our snowy black and white TV, over and over. I remember my dad explaining the meaning of the riderless horse. I don't share the feeling of the president being killed because I wasn't old enough to understand. But The Hurricane and Favorite Young Man and I share 9/11.

    Love,
    Janie

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  11. Your are right, it's trans-generational. Your son (and other people his age) just feels this is "his 9/11" because it is his first event like that.

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  12. Yes it's inter generational. I also think those people who were not born will be influenced by it...not like we are but they will be influenced.
    I was 23 when Kennedy was shot and in Inuvik NWT. I was told about it when classes ended at noon and I came down to the staff room.

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  13. I hate it that we seem to need these kinds of days to mark out passage of time.

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  14. i remember making almost the exact comment to my mother, "my grandparents had pearl harbor and i have this." my grandparents were young parents in 1941. i was a young parent in 2001. for me it was a loss of a certain degree of innocence...being attacked on our own soil. And given that I knew people who worked in the towers it was all the more shattering.

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  15. The first time we experience one of these truly inter generational tragedies robs us of our innocence, forever, so it becomes part of our identity.

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  16. Yes sir this tragedy definitely brought us together, it hit us all hard, we reacted in different ways but at the same time felt the same fear, anger, and helplessness, we will all remember where we were on that day, the day we became the 9/11 generation.

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  17. A timeless post and right on the "nail"!

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  18. it is a loss of innocence and an awakening to a new and very dangerous world.

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  19. That's a interesting way to look at it, I've never thought about it that way before. If you read my post, you read me say something about the same. There aren't many days I remember like this one (or the OJ Simpson trial). It's crazy!

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  20. I wish all of our children had GOOD defining moments.

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  21. interesting perspective..everyone of us remembers where we were when we first herd the tragic news.

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  22. I, too, remember where I was when Kennedy was assasinated: a freshman in college, I remember the need to call home and speak to my parents, tears running down my cheeks--the need to know that they were okay. On Sept. 11, 2001, I was at work in a bank; I remember standing mesmerized in front of the small black and white tv set we had in our break room...seeing the second plane hit the second tower in real time. There are some things we will never forget.

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  23. Nicely done. I Know this the end of Sept., but I had to read. You have a way with words. This blog is worth repeating every September 11th.We all need to remember.

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