My son is a 14-year-old freshman. September 11 happened almost four years before he was born. On my timeline, the moon landing and Woodstock are equivalently remote historical events. Which is a reminder that while, for many of us, 9/11 seems like it happened quite recently, it’s not viewed by younger people in the same way. This should be an obvious sort of observation. “Time marches on” and all of that, but I feel like we’re not letting time march on naturally with 9/11.
Unlike so many historical events, 9/11 continues to dominate the zeitgeist in a host of ways, many of them unhealthy. Most obviously, we’re still fighting wars, either in response to it or for which it served as a pretext. But it likewise continues to inform our country’s policies, business practices, political rhetoric, and mood. Post 9/11 life is so thoroughly shaped by it that I think we often forget just how different things are now than they were 18 years ago today.
There’s a balance to be struck between “never forgetting” and “respectfully moving on.” I’m not sure anyone has a great grip on exactly how to do that, but it’s probably tied up in the difference between simply, “remembering” and having historical events serve as the fulcrum around which most current events continue to turn.
It seems we should still be able to remember the history of 9/11 without it serving as a conversation-ender or political third rail. It seems that we, as adults, should begin to think of 9/11 more like my son and his classmates are thinking about it today. As an important historical event and tragedy. As something which should be remembered and something from which we should learn. But as something that is, in fact, in the past and something which should not so thoroughly dominate the culture that it keeps us from moving forward into the future.