Today, millions of people around the world will be remembering where they were 10 years ago on September 11th 2001 and how the tragedy that unfolded in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania personally affected them. For me, I was 22, living in London and in hospital recovering from a collapsed lung that had seen me bedridden for the best part of 2 weeks. I was all set to be sent home that Tuesday and in preparation was undergoing a final medical procedure that required me to be given general anesthetic. As I came to in my hospital bed I remember in my woozy state hearing one of the nurses walking the wards telling all the patients that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. My father who was at my bedside at the time and was born and raised in Manhattan commented how sad the news was as the towers had been the site of a terrorist attack eight years before. Of course none of us knew at that moment that this too was a premeditated attack, it just seemed like a terrible accident. As the full picture of the attacks unfolded, I watched on a small TV from a lounge in the hospital, the room packed with doctors, nurses, porters, janitors, patients and their families & friends. Even though we were on the other side of the world, thousands of miles from the unfolding events the emotion was no less intense.
One of the interesting aspects of the news coverage over the last few weeks is the focus on the younger generation who were either children in 2001 and are now in their late teens and early twenties or in many cases not yet born. I realize that although they understand the importance of 9/11 and that they undoubtedly feel the grief, they don’t have the same perspective as I did watching it unfold live. For them 9/11 is an important and pivotal day in history, much as the assignation of John F Kennedy, Neil Armstrong walking on the moon or the fall of the Berlin wall is for me. But like those events for me, for them, for the most part, 9/11 has no personal connection, no visceral emotion or haunting memory that came from watching the world change. The phrase “Never Forget” that is associated with 9/11 often annoys me, as if there is ever any chance that those who witnessed it might let the memory slip away. It seems more fitting, that the instruction be aimed at those who cannot forget, because they never witnessed it. As a generation that fought and lived through the first world war die off, it’s easy for those events, those lives lost to become a event in history, a date. Dates that perhaps like many dates in centuries past have lost their human and personal relevance. I recall during my childhood, adults talking about where they were on November 22nd 1963 when JFK was killed. That was a defining moment for a generation who witnessed it and in many ways also a defining moment for those who didn’t. In 2011, 10 years on, the same can be said of 9/11.