17 Years Since the Day the World Changed

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The 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan. Courtesy 9/11 Memorial.

Does anybody know what day we commemorate this Tuesday?

Tomorrow is 9/11/2018, the 17th anniversary of the day the world changed for America.

Tomorrow is 9/11/2018, the 17th anniversary of the day some 3,000 Americans died in terrorist attacks when passenger jets were flown into the World Trade Center in New York and into the Pentagon, and when another crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

When is the last time you heard somebody talk about 9/11, about the smoke from the towers and people plummeting downward? Or remembered the gaping hole in the Pentagon? Or talking about that field and how those passengers stormed the cockpit?

When was the last time people talked about that bright, clear-blue day that fell apart around 9 a.m. and spiraled into a national day of catastrophe, death, chaos and heroics?

Now it comes back, but it is an odd struggle to remember. We live in a different world, in which our conversation is dominated by a barrage of daily tweets from our president, by the politics of chaos, by a divided country — divided by party, by the government, by ourselves.

The shocking events of 9/11 in many ways are receding, even though the same events thrust us deep into a war in Iraq and kept us in continuous military struggles in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

We can only guess that the events are as fresh as tomorrow’s commemorations for New Yorkers, for Washingtonians, for anybody who flies in an airplane and, especially, for anyone connected to those who died on 9/11.

But ask yourself again, when was the last time most of us talked about 9/11 or thought about those events? So chaotic and loud is the background noise of our daily news that we barely can make sense of today before we’re forced to move on to the next day, the next outrage, the next book, the next thing.

This year, 9/11 is remembered in the context of what’s coming with the midterm elections, when it is remembered at all. This is the last run towards the climax of a battle for control of the government, and it’s a non-stop, 24-7 process conducted in social media and in the media at large.

This week, we will remember. Sometimes it hits you out of the blue — a story about the growing instances of cancer among people who had anything to do with 9/11, firemen and policemen in New York, people on the ground among the debris of the Twin Towers, workers at the Pentagon.

The memories probably are and definitely should be shared by thousands. The memories of loss stretch across generations.

Yet, today, we are distracted by the world we live in, which is different from the day we commemorate: 9/11. We remember the piercing noise of jet engines, planes flying low into buildings, somber reporters and officials, the president struck quiet reading a children’s book and, for the longest time, the sound of airplanes seeming ominous in the sky.

On 9/11, we hope the memory of 9/11 will drown out all the shrill noises of our small political world.

On 9/11, even as Bob Woodward’s book hits the stores, let us remember the victims who died and suffered that day. Let us remember the survivors, which is to say, who we were that day and who we are now.

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