Every year around this time I do something kind of morbid.
Every year around this time I watch archived videos of news coverage of the September 11 attacks.
I do this to remind myself. Of how naive we were, hearing the news anchors speculate about small planes and air traffic control problems. Of that moment when we all figured it out, when the second plane hit and you can hear not just the anchors but everyone in the studio gasping in horror. Of how terrifying it was, and for how long. It was hours of unbelievable scenes and frightening rumors. The Pentagon on fire, the towers collapsing.
Right now there is a man reporting from the Pentagon before the plane hit and I want to yell at him and tell him what’s coming, tell everyone what’s coming, not just on that day but everyday, what’s coming for all of us for the next eleven years until I reach the limit of my knowledge and have to wait again.
I do this because it is very easy to forget, and I don’t want to. It’s not just that I want to remember the innocence and the terror, the Before and the After, but because I also want to remember how proud I was of our country in the immediate aftermath. Those first few fleeting days when we really were one nation, when Congress sang on the steps of the capital, when the world poured out its heart to us and most of us even rallied around Bush for the first and last time. I felt nothing like it before and probably never will again.
I do this to merge my own memories with our collective national memory.
One of the most powerful things I’ve ever read is the passage in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five when he describes war in reverse. Every year when I do this I feel the urge to do the same thing, to rewind, not just the videos but everything. The soldiers will have their limbs knit back together from IEDs that disintegrate into parts. They come home from Iraq, from Afghanistan. The towers will rise from the ashes, one and then the other. The Pentagon will lose its gaping fiery wound, the burning hole will return to pristine Pennsylvania farmland. The falling man will fly back to his sparkling perch, the firemen will descend into the open arms of their brothers. The smoke will cease to cloud the clear September sky and the planes will come home, disembark. The passengers will go back to their families. I too, can rewind, will be fifteen again; my family, too, will be whole again, unriven by divorce and strife and worry.
The problem is that even if I did, even if I could, rewind it all, it would only start to play again. We none of us can escape our fates.
So I watch. Every year. To remember.