Cafe Witness

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Why 9/11 Doesn't Matter

It was 2003, I think. I was sitting at Eat 'n Park (a Pittsburgh family restaurant chain, like Denny's but cleaner), writing and drinking coffee.

Two booths away, a college-aged girl and her mom were having dinner. Somehow, 9/11 had popped up in conversation, and the girl recounted her experience that day:

"I remember I was in bed, and I heard the answering machine come on, and it was you saying 'Turn on the news, the World Trade Center is collapsing.' And I'm laying there like, 'I don't know those people? Why should I get up?'"

Then she laughed, and went back to eating dinner.

If you lived through 9/11, I'm sure it affected you. It changed the way you look at the world, at skyscrapers, at cities and countries and governments.

If you didn't, it probably didn't change much of anything.

The world won't grind to a halt today in memory of 9/11. It will grind to less of a halt in 2008, and 2009. And, in another generation, 9/11 will be Pearl Harbor, or D-Day, or (at best) the Grassy Knoll. It will be a story we tell our kids and grandkids, but not something they have a conscious connection to. It may even be a cultural oddity, depending upon how the winds of policy and history blow.

But it won't matter to them. Not like it does to the New Yorkers who were there. And not like it does to anyone who watched, awestruck, and wondered how different the world would be after that.

Soon, the people who don't have an attachment to 9/11 -- the people who weren't there, weren't born yet, weren't paying attention -- will outnumber the ones who do.

But the people who slept through it will always outnumber the people who didn't.



  • It's funny- one of the questions I occasionally ask students I interview for Penn is "How has 9/11 changed your world?" and I agree it is going to become less relevant to their lives as time passes.
    As someone who had young children at the time, 9/11 stands out as a time when I felt I had no control any longer, especially when it comes to keeping my kids out of harm's way. The illusion of absolute safety was shattered.

    But I look at this as an important turning point. One where we realize, in a small way, what people go through in other countries all the time. The fact that we are as a country, daily perpetrating this kind of violence, or are victims of violence in Iraq floors me.
    But instead of letting fear of the unknown or the different hold me back, I use it to motivate me to seize the day and not worry about the petty as much.

    By Blogger wsh1266, at 11:38 AM  

  • That's both profound and frightening in how true it is. To see 9/11 someday relegated to old folks sitting around discussing a bit of trivia, as meaningful to people who didn't experience as someone talking about an old episode of Seinfeld.

    By Anonymous Amie Gillingham, at 11:41 AM  

  • I wrote a post today about 9/11 and closure.

    6 years out, and I still don't have it. Other people never needed it. It's the way of the world, I suppose.

    By Blogger fiat lux, at 11:57 AM  

  • I tend to get emotionally involved in alot of stories and events that do not "directly" effect me. Like last year when James Kim of Cnet was missing, I found myself searching for news on it and getting a bit upset when people could seem to care less about it. Now with 9/11, it is getting to the point where less and less people even realize its 9/11 until they see it on the news. I think people should always remember, but not to the point where they are fixated on it day after day, or where in some case (politics) they use it for their own means.

    Great post Justin.

    co-host of That's Good to Know

    By Blogger Chris Thorn co-host of That's Good to Know, at 12:04 PM  

  • There's a couple of things I've come across on this topic. I remember I was in my first art class when it happened. There are some reasons why I believe there's a majority of people that don't care.

    Firstly, the people in this world are becoming more and more self absorbed in themselves. Especially since the internet allows for anonymity, so we get the people that laugh at others misfortunes.

    Another thing is the war in Iraq. Trying not to sound political, but since Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein have nothing to do with each other besides being in the Middle East, it's taken away from the 9/11 travesty. I do support the war, so it's not like I don't think the war is all wrong, it's just not relating to 9/11 and that has taken the focus away from the attack.

    This is my little 2 cents on the topic, great post.

    By Blogger Philip, at 2:30 PM  

  • I am a safety educator and information officer for a suburban fire department. As the events started to unfold that day I was teaching an in-service training for hundreds of staff at an extended care facility.

    I remember the person that alerted us came through the door of the lecture hall and shouted "a plane has hit the World Trade Center." Some people shrugged and said, "that's too bad" and related comments.

    I finished that session and during break before the next session walked out to one of the resident lounges to see what the news might have to say about the plane and the WTC. I was shocked as I watched, live, the second plane hit the building. It was apparent to me at that time that we were watching a tragedy unfold and that this wasn't a "small commuter plane."

    I immediately received a page from work to cease what I was doing and report to our emergency operations center. There was speculation that this was, indeed, a terrorist act and that we should prepare for anything that might appear to be nationwide.

    I recall that the staff and administrators of the facility where I was teaching were very disquieted that I canceled the remainder of the training sessions for the day. They were not realizing the significance of the event and couldn't understand my role as information officer for my agency. It was a bit disheartening to me.

    Regardless, the events of that day will always hold strong significance to me. As a member of the fire service, I have a different perspective than most might have. And, yes, there are many people that have no long-lasting effect in their lives as a result of that day.

    Perspective is an interesting thing to consider.

    By Anonymous Rich Palmer, at 11:21 AM  

  • 9/11 was a day that was a roller coaster of emotions. My wife and I had previously said that was the day we were informing our parents we were pregnant with our first child. It was a day when I had a friend interviewing someone at the WTC.

    My friend survived. The person he was supposed to interview never showed.

    My wife and I told our parents. A new life was coming while others were leaving.

    By Blogger Tony, at 11:22 AM  

  • While I fully agree that there was and still is a certain amount of, I suppose we could call it "apathy", connected to events such as 9/11, the question begs to be asked, "What would you have us do ten years, twenty years or even fifty years after a national tragedy?"

    A holiday will be assigned. On key years (20, 50...etc.) rememberances will be held and displayed on the news and in papers across, perhaps, even the world.

    I choose to look at those that, as you put it, "slept" as what they are...apathetic. I've seen them as well and heard them make the same comment. However, I believe that we, as a society, share more length of spirit than what some have assessed.

    While some slept and will still "sleep", the majority do not. The majority realizes that while tragic and horrific,our lives must continue. How can it not?

    The "sleepers" will get their mocha-java's and smile and relegate the day to what they need done. While the majority will get their mocha-java's, smile and relegate the day to what *must* be done. The majority do not "sleep". They carry the visions of falling mortar and bodies with them.

    It is a sadness we carry within whether we had a direct connection to the fallen or not. However, not seen does not mean not felt. Any wound heals to a scar over time. The scar will remain with each of us no matter the sort of cry we may or may not let loose.

    We must move on to the 20 or the fifty...etc. And carry the scar with us as so many do. How can we not? To do otherwise would be giving those that caused it reason to celebrate themselves. And that would be a tragedy as well.

    By Anonymous painter, at 10:51 AM  

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