Our generation’s burden
Published: Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 16:07
A feeling of finality dominated this year’s 9/11 anniversary, which the media officially christened “9/11: 10 Years Later.” After 10 years of documentaries, interviews, specials, and ceremonies, there’s only so much left to say.
There are only so many angles from which Flight 175 can hit the South Tower, there are only so many people that can stare upward with their hands over their mouths, and there are only so many survivors, family members, and firefighters that can appear on national television. The story’s told. The cultural well is tapped. And something tells me that “9/11: 11 Years Later” will be rather disappointing in comparison.
Maybe that’s a good thing, for now. But I emphasize the “for now.” It’s not really “9/11: 11 Years Later” that worries me. It’s “9/11: 60 Years Later” that should concern each of us.
We’ve all been asked where we were on 9/11. For most students, the answer is “at school.” The shocking reality, though, is that for people only a few years younger than us, the answer is “sucking on my binkie.”
Kids only a few years behind us—indeed, the freshman class that will arrive on campus sometime next year—will have little or no memory of the actual event outside of news footage and history books. In fact, it won’t be long before you’re asking someone “Where were you on 9/11?” and the answer will be “Among the unborn.” They won’t remember. They weren’t there. That means that we’re special. We were just old enough to remember watching the planes hit the buildings in New York and the boots hit the ground in Afghanistan, as it happened. And that means that someday, many decades in the future, we’ll be the last ones to remember. When our grandparents, parents, and Generation X colleagues have passed away, it will be our sole responsibility to be the final carriers of those cultural memories, those personal experiences, those raw emotions, and those difficult decisions. It will be our responsibility to make sure 9/11 doesn’t become, as former President Bush said in, yet another anniversary special, “just another day on the calendar.” It’s hard to imagine now, but we should consider whether our 80-year-old selves will be up for the job. It’s a serious task. Already, kids who were learning multiplication tables in a second-grade classroom on 9/11 are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan to fight the war it sparked.
The echoes of 9/11 will affect this country’s policy decisions for generations to come. If we shirk our responsibility to ground our fellow citizens of the future with our tangible memories of that day, we’ll do a disservice to our country.
Our generation is maligned as one of the most narcissistic generations in recent history, with no sense of personal responsibility and very short attention spans. We’re going to have to prove those naysayers wrong.
In the coming years, as the anniversary specials begin to fade away and the beginning of football season again becomes the most important day in September, just keep a tiny piece of a memory tucked away. Even if it’s just that first moment you felt really afraid that day, or what the conversation was like around your family’s dinner table that night.
Hoard that memory. Keep it safe. Most importantly, be prepared to offer it to the world on that day far into the future when it will be among the last living memories of 9/11.