I cannot remember the day this actually happened. It was 2001; I was five years old, a kindergartener whose only thoughts belonged to curiosity and books. But as I grew up, I heard the story, over and over, every year: the planes, the crash, the death and terror and mourning. Especially of the heroes, the firemen and police officers, and the civilians all doing the right thing when it was far from easy.
Sometimes, I am glad I am young enough that I do not remember that. That on such a terrible day, ignorance was bliss. I lost no one but fellow countrymen. Which, now that I'm old enough, I realize is bad enough. Can you imagine it? Just for a second? Being buried under rubble, your breath catching, smoke trying to cough its way out of your lungs? I am lucky not to have any relatives who died in the 9/11 attacks, but I am sorry and horrified by the deaths of strangers.
And that might sound strange, to be sorry for the deaths of strangers, when I can't even remember the attack. This is a desensitized culture, after all -- we aren't sorry when we hear of the Bubonic Plague, when 2/3 of Europe's population was wiped out. But we are also a culture that becomes outraged over the death of one boy; in the age of digital information and digital personal relations, we freak out over smaller disasters. And, of course, I am not immune to culture. It probably doesn't help that I have an over-reactive imagination and a writer's tendency to dwell on internal conflict.
So, yes -- on this day, of all days, I can feel both sad at the deaths of strangers over ten years ago, and very lucky that I do not remember it. It's a strange feeling, to be sure -- it's not distant, like hearing of the earthquake in Japan, but it's not as immediate as a death of a family member.
And what compounds such a feeling is the fact that another human being is behind this. I will not add my opinion about Osama Bin Laden and whether he's dead and whether that happened in the ethical way. I do wonder, though, how a human being -- a person who breathes, or breathed -- a person who knows or knew that we are also humans, that we are also sentient creatures, could knowingly cause such harm. It's hard to wrap my mind around. He's like a storybook villain, the way he's portrayed to Us Youngsters. But what is the psychology behind such a thing? What went on in that head while planes crashed and people died? It's morbidly fascinating question, one where you know the behavior is wrong but you still have to wonder why the person is doing it, what past experiences made this sort of behavior a viable option.
Which, while I'm sure the information is out there somewhere -- published in some book or science journal -- I'm not perfectly sure I want to know. It's enough just to feel, for one profound Moment of Silence after the Pledge of Allegiance is spoken, the full ramifications of actual human suffering. My cynical side tells me that there is no justification, and anyways, I am generally not one for searching out information. But my nicer side just wants to spend a moment remembering heroes, and a moment of humility remembering how easy I could be remembering more than a stranger's death on this day.
But now, I do not want to be profound and deep-dark-thoughtful. I want to live a life free and deep. The life I can live, because terrorism failed to terrify us for long. Because it just saddens us once a year, and because it can seem like a faraway event, a world away.
So, instead of continuing to pontificate upon personal feelings, I found a couple of my favorite songs. Old favorite songs, that I knew in childhood and occasionally still listen to, especially on the day they're written about.