I remember talking to a student of mine a few days after the 9/11 attacks and he wondered how long it would take before we started viewing this inauspicious anniversary the way we view the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. That is to say, taking time to think about the events of that day, but not as emotionally connected. Of course I didn’t have a ready-made answer for him, but I was thinking about that conversation this morning while riding my bike around town and reflecting on the “below the fold” front page story in today’s SF Chronicle: “Terrorism Takes Backseat to Economy.”
Yes, life does indeed go on, but it’s interesting to see how in the last seven years we have been living with a narrative that frames so much of our lives. We’re in two wars because of 9/11, airline travel is amazingly tedious because of 9/11, the last election was framed around “Who’s going to best protect you and your family” because of 9/11, our rights, government power, our view of brown people, and allocation of tax dollars have altered because of 9/11. It’s been hammered into our collective skulls for so long that it was bound to reach – what economists call – the law of diminishing returns.
People are aware that while The Big Bad will always be there, it doesn’t mean that other things aren’t important – like living your life. And what kind of life would you have if you constantly walked around with the dreadful thought that you could be the victim of a terrorist attack? Well, it would be a fearful and paranoid existence, and it’s clear that most people just can’t live their lives like that. So, as we take a minute or two, or 60 to reflect on the loss of life that occurred on 9/11/01, perhaps there’s another image or emotion that we ought to reflect on, too: the way in which complete strangers from all over the world came together to offer help in whatever way they could in the aftermath of something so tragic. As we face this time of economic uncertainly, perhaps there’s some comfort in the thought that no matter how self-interested and violent we as a species can be, we also have an amazing ability to be selfless in a time of need. And that’s the characteristic I like to cling to on this day.