I remember sitting in seventh-grade history class as my teacher played us excerpts from FDR’s famous speech the day after Pearl Harbor. The president boldly declared Dec. 7, 1941, “A date which will live in infamy.” With the impossible imagination of a child, I wondered what it would be like to live through that kind of history, what would it be like to know that within your lifetime a demarcation line of “before and after the world changed” would be drawn firmly in the sand. A day that would sink into your consciousness so much that even years later you’d be reminiscing with friends, colleagues, spouses and, one day, children and grandchildren alike, where you were and what you felt. I shook it off as unfathomable and refocused on my lessons.
A few short years later I no longer wondered what it would be like. As most millennials in America, Sept. 11, 2001, is burnt into our psyches as deeply as a terrifying movie. We cannot erase it. It’s a freeze-frame of life before and after in our childhood and impossible to forget, a moment in our own personal histories forever preserved in museums, textbooks, and the actions of the global community that with the mere utterance of the day we are transported vividly back to it.
Now so many years later, there is distance between then and now, for many of us we are nearly twice the age we were when it happened. What was once a hiccup in our hearts and lives, our own day of infamy is slowly shifting into the realm of living history. As each year passes this once gaping wound hardens into scar tissue, still twinging and chafing when azure skies of September quicken, but without the acuteness that stops your breath. It’s a chronic pain, one that we will live with always, but is slipping into the subconscious of our national identity and out of the forefront of our minds.
Is this blasphemy to the memory? To those who died and the horror of what happened or is it a normal facet of life? Every year on its anniversary we will remember, but if its not at the tip of every politicians tongue anymore, is that so bad? We live in a post-9/11 world, one where we’re no longer dealing with just the ramifications of the attack, but the ripple effect of all the actions taken thereafter. We’re far enough past it that we can look backward and see with clearer eyes the answers to the lingering question marks we felt so keenly. The world around us has moved forward, with new threats, new insecurities, and terrors haunting our news. And so we too have moved on and the world has kept turning.
For that’s the things about days that live on in infamy: They exist eternally as a fixed point in time, forever changing the thereafter, but impossible to fit into the everyday. That’s how you live through history, by never forgetting, but not always remembering—by carrying the scar tissue with you into the future and letting its hardened remnants be your foundation.
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