Monday, September 10, 2007

Forgetting 9/11, or Never Knowing at All

Another turn of the calendar, and it's 9/11 again. Despite the fact that we keep on talking, none of us, I think, really has anything left to say about it. The fearful residue of that day remains, of course, and it's a cliche to say that no one who lived through that time will ever forget it.

Though already a new crop of children is appearing who have forgotten it, or else never knew at all. While at some point such children had to emerge, I somehow didn't expect to meet one for years and years. That's how deeply this event has soaked into our culture.

Yet, just yesterday, I did meet one. Sammi, a 10-year-old who I see once a week as part of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, merely furrowed her brow when I mentioned the impending anniversary. I asked if she hadn't heard of this date.

"Uh-uh," she said.

"Not in school, or on the news? Maybe your mother's said something about it," I asked. I could jog her memory by giving her a few clues, I thought. She just forgot for a minute, the way she might forget what a numerator is, or the capital of Montana. She'll get it then feel silly.

But she just shook her head.

Well. I explained, casually, so as not to frighten her, that on that day, six years ago, some people flew planes into two big towers in New York. On purpose.

She looked curious, but nothing more. "Why would anybody do that?" she said.

"Because they were very angry at the United States," I answered.

She shrugged again, and mentioned that she couldn't wait to get home, so she could run across the street and visit a neighbor girl.

But I pressed ahead. Surely a 10-year-old couldn't be quite so historically blank. It was disturbing that she should be. I asked if she heard about the war in Iraq.

At this she nodded vigorously. She knew all about it - a relative of her mother's boyfriend had been there for a very long time, she said, sounding indignant on his behalf.

I told her that we went to war because of the planes on 9/11, though Iraq really didn't have anything to do with that day. But she had lost interest before I even finished my sentence. She began fiddling with the knobs on the radio, looking for a station she liked.

I started to say more, but then stopped. How could this be? How could she not know? And was it a sign of regeneration that she didn't?

More unanswerable questions born of 9/11.

1 comment:

Lightning Butterfly said...

I mentioned the comparison of 9/11 to Pearl Harbor to my aunt Ruth who is 94. She could compare the two because she had lived through both as an adult. I don't remember her exact words but there was a sense that the response of our government this time was wrong. Meaning Iraq.
It is fascinating how tragic historical events become PRINT media as time goes on but the people who lived them in real time have a relationship to the event.

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