To my way of thinking, there’s a certain level of impropriety in framing each September 11th as an ‘anniversary’. I just don’t believe that horrible events have to share a word used in matrimony and birth. Twelve years have passed since that day, twelve years worth of time moving as the tides do . . heaving along with little use for definitions or numbers or the consequences they engender.
Everyday life collapsed, spiraled, changed, and then it returned to a differently understood sense of normalcy. Today, we’re a reformulated version of the same old truths. Learning in piecemeal from a complicated rubric of great expectations and tireless denouements. Our politics has become more abrasive, our workplaces more unpredictable and our free time more precious.
We visited Washington D.C. in January 2002. It’s a town whose business is accomplished at lunchtime, after which the locals loan out the place to tourists for the weekend. At least, that’s the way it had always seemed to me until that January.
What I remember mostly were the flags, they were everywhere. The hip logos of consumerism had ceded to the born again national flower. Flags sprouted from playgrounds, front porches, storefronts, cars, shirts, caps and lapels. The country was draped in these unifying colors of mourning and fight. The pedestrian effects of before seemed illogical and rude and indifference was akin to nineties pop artists- an outdated extravagance we just couldn’t afford any longer.
The world seemed like church- every gesture significant, each word sacred. There truly was a perceptible mercy in our language. And the quiet of city streets was unmistakable. But it wasn’t far to go in the understanding that our place was not holy. The previous dissonance of sirens had given way to a certain level of anxiety. Jetliners were noticeable. The interpretation of a stranger’s body language had become a matter of national security.
We adopted the Smithsonian complex in the morning before heading to the Vietnam Veterans Wall as the sun held the chill of winter at bay. My son scampered down the walk way, his run dwarfed by the immensity of “The Wall” before his mother called the race and reined him in. My daughter stuck to my side, her eyes inching while her little neck craned. She studied the massive wall for a time before asking me its purpose. I told her that each name on the wall represented someone who had been ‘lost’ during the war in Vietnam. It was an explanation couched in post 9/11 speak, and it didn’t take her long to ask for clarification.
“Died . . .” I said softly.
The brief history lesson ended and I allowed her to capture and process the meaning as I slung her onto my shoulders. My kids were becoming too knowledgeable about death and for an instant, I was ashamed for having visited this place with them. A place where more death was to be considered.
“Too much died,” She said.
I was speechless, since it was all I could do not to cry. Five years old and she had brokered reality out of the surreptitiously gilded words us grownups used. She had no use for avoidance mechanisms. Her words were a foghorn, a cut to the quick. Too much died was proper grammar, proper sentiment. It was truth.
It was my wife who squeezed my hand and brought me back. I turned to find her eyes struggling to keep it straight. “Wow . . .” was all she said.
It was all there was to say.