The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is now one month and four days past. Prior to the many local, state and national observations – and especially on Sunday, Sept. 11 – numerous people repeated the refrain “Never Forget.”
It seems fair to question: Have we forgotten?
The answer depends on how well we identified what we wanted to remember, doesn’t it, and I don’t think we attained consensus that. I only remember consensus on the desire to “never forget.”
Is that the only thing we are to never forget?
During 9/11 celebrations last month, some people petitioned audiences to not forget that our country has enemies. They mentioned who they believed those enemies were and warned that those enemies wanted to destroy our country. It wasn’t always clear if all Americans agreed on the content of the enemy list.
Others implored us to not forget what it means to be an American. Yet with possible definitions as diverse as the nation that 312,423,954* citizens claim as their homeland, I don’t think we have consensus on that topic either.
Still others pleaded to not forget the sacrifices made by our service men and women. On that, all agreed. We have consensus for gratitude.
So, again, what are we to never forget?
Something I have not forgotten is how my youngest son, Skye, then six-years-old, brought me a drawing less than one month after the four separate planes crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in rural Pennsylvania. He had gotten a fresh piece of computer paper from my printer and drawn what I could only guess was his tribute to America. His drawing depicted the four presidents of Mt. Rushmore and what he imagined they were thinking as they sat atop the mountainside.
Washington was thinking of ancient Indian drawings, Jefferson was thinking of the Statue of Liberty, Roosevelt was reflecting on the Badlands, and Lincoln was thinking about “when the bad men crashed the plane into the New York skyscrapers.” With Skye’s permission, I added his descriptions as he told me about his artwork (which has Roosevelt and Lincoln in each other’s position on the monument). I was so proud of my little patriot. I still am.
Skye, now 16, didn’t remember he had made this drawing until I found it and showed it to him tonight. He had forgotten. We didn’t talk much while looking at it. He was too focused on his evening plans. Life has moved on for my American teen in a semi-predictable and traditional way. But sometime I would like to know what his picture of America looks like now. What stories of our country’s history are most prominent in his mind? And what factors have most shaped his concept of what it means to be an American? What does it mean to him that more than 10 years ago some Islamic militants executed a coordinated plot to inflict terror within the United States of America, taking nearly 3,000 lives?
If he cannot remember the drawing he created in October of 2001, I am confident he cannot remember the pre-9/11 America of his birth. And that’s probably as it should be. Life has no reverse. Even those of us who remember that version of America can do nothing to return society to those innocent and naïve days.
Other countries had known such terror before us. Had we forgotten? Is that what we now should never forget?
My most enduring memory of September 11, 2001, is how the world came together to grieve all we had lost – nearly 3,000 lives, iconic structures and a way of life. Not only had we lost that version of America, but they had lost it too. That shared grief and a solidarity against terror are what I will never forget and what I regard as 9/11’s most enduring legacy.
I hope we are able to experience that type of unity again, but not because an act of terror or war brings it about. I hope we remember that unity can come through acts of peace as well.
What will the America of 2021 be like? What will those presidents atop Mt. Rushmore be contemplating in the minds of any young grandchildren I might have by then?
I can only wonder what they will attempt to never forget, and what Skye will continue to remember. Thanks to him I will always remember this drawing and how it gave me a perspective that spanned beyond the conflict of the moment. He connected me to America’s proud past and a future still full of possibility. I'm already proud of his generation, and I will never forget that.
• According to the U.S. population clock at 10 p.m. on October 15, 2011.