It’s a few minutes before midnight and once again I am writing about the day the towers fell. Of course, it was also the day that the Pentagon burned and a plane was brought down in Shanksville, PA. Still it is the image of the World Trade Center crumbling to the ground that sets the tone for my memories even more than a decade later.
Although, there are plenty of images to choose from. Live news feeds, security camera recordings of the Pentagon, New Yorkers filming on the streets and from rooftops, and even – ten years later – video of the burning crash site from Shanksville. I live less than an hour’s drive from there – in fact I drove past the crash site the night of the attack, on Route 30 headed to State College for work. Earlier that morning, I was in my North Side apartment watching the entire tragedy unfold on live television. I was awake because my then-pregnant girlfriend had false labor throughout the previous night. United 93 may have already been crashed into the ground by the time word reached Pittsburgh that an errant plane was headed in our direction. The roads were choked with traffic, commuters and visitors to downtown in a mad rush to get far away from tall buildings.
My then-pregnant girlfriend hightailed it to her parents’ home, an hour south of the city. I found myself at the home of a co-worker. We went to The Church Brew Works to get well and properly drunk, toasting the end of peacetime in America. The restaurant sits in a large church and even though there were not many patrons at noon on a Tuesday, everyone in the restaurant huddled in one spot, around a TV in the bar area, watching with the sound off.
Almost a decade later, I experienced a similar kind of communion of a much more celebratory nature. It was May 1, 2011 and once the news broke that Bin Laden was dead, like on 9/11, I didn’t want to be alone. The formerly-pregnant girlfriend had long ago left me behind, and the daughter she eventually did give birth to was with her, asleep. But this wasn’t a family party, anyway. I watched the President’s address in The Fox & The Hound, a bar in a strip mall near my home. The nearly three dozen people there cheered when the President confirmed the report. Of course, here in the home of the Steelers and the Penguins, we love to cheer at good news. The drinks flowed freely, either on the house or the tab of a patriot.
When I was ten years old, I visited the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Hawaii. A long rectangular building stands on the water, above the sunken remains of the Arizona and her crew. I sat in the corner, near the wall of names. As I read them, remembering the story they told us on the boat ride from the shore, I cried. A ten year-old boy does not like to cry in public. Now, some 22 years and one national tragedy removed from the moment, the sting of Pearl Harbor has long since left me. I wonder if it ever left any of those who lived through it?
Those of us who remember 9/11, as it happened, may never get over the pain, the anger, or the fear of that day. Yet, my daughter’s generation and those that follow hers, what about them? She doesn’t remember my leaving to go fight in the War on Terror. She hates the news and history, preferring instead to sculpt and study wolves and other animals. She is now ten years old (two weeks shy of 11), and I wonder if she would cry staring at names inscribed on the Shanksville Memorial or the pools of Ground Zero? Time passes and the distance grows between that day and the present. The future looms, and as a society, our memories are getting shorter. The war in Afghanistan, started a month after the attack, rages on, still. The wound is still fresh, a deep incision that takes forever to heal. But maybe, it will heal.
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