Americans remember 11 September 2001 in many different ways. One, but by no means the only way, is to ask, “Where were you on….?”
That question appeared on my Facebook account this morning and I intended to make a “comment”. However, Facebook, like similar social networking platforms , is not able to handle too many words and thus not too many thoughts. So, below is what I would have posted had the technology been able to support it:
One wonders how many times in one’s life is it necessary to recall where they were on a given date? To be sure, on 7 and 8 December 1941, staff members of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C., conducted a series of oral history interviews with people randomly selected as they walked up or down The Mall. The interviews were recorded on “wire” recorders and remain a fascinating source of popular history for the period. For the second half of the twentieth century, those interviews reinforced the habit of asking, “Where were you when. . . .?” The presumption is “where we were” somehow signifies or legitimizes the event itself. That is preposterous, of course; but knowing “where we were when” is a significant psychological touchstone with which to construct or recall what it is we perceive as (or was) real. I think we all do it. That is to say, I know I do it too. For the Civil Rights March, 28 August 1963, I was actually there. Three months later, however, when President Kennedy was assassinated I was taking an afternoon nap in my dorm room in New York. For the moon landing 16 July 1969, I was in SEA and did not see the actual video until a remote signal site I was near picked up on a delayed re-transmission. It goes without saying that for similar chronological reasons I not only missed Woodstock (also 1969), it was some time later until I had any idea that it might (or might not) be important. For 11 September 2001 I was at work but was, later in the morning, able to view the events on a TV. Ginny, my wife, was also at work and also had access to a TV. Bridget, our second daughter. was also at working at Cross Country Inn in Reynoldsburg and her husband-to-be, Justin, was asleep (as I was in 1963). All four of us were in Columbus, Ohio. Our oldest daughter, Susan, however, was enroute to a meeting at the Pentagon but heard about the attack in time to abort her schedule for that day. Her husband, Jason, was in class at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD. All of that may be of personal interest, but it can by no means compare to, let alone substitute, for those who were, on 11 September 2001, in the World Trade Center buildings, in the Pentagon, or on Flight 93; the first responders in New York City, Arlington, Virginia, and Washington, D. C.; the pilots who scrambled to fly CAP over DC; or the staff and children at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School, Sarasota, Florida, where President Bush was reading to them that morning. They, not us, are the ones with real stories to tell and for us to listen.