Six years is a long time. Most of us don't remember our emotional response to 9/11. As often as not, our recollections are twisted and warped to fit with everything that's happened since. Some are encouraging us to look forward, while others insist on looking back.
I was reminded the other day of the gulf between those who lost loved ones and those, like me, who did not. I was having a casual conversation with a friend about movies, and I recommended United 93, which is one of the most emotionally wrenching, utterly horrific, and masterfully executed films I've ever seen. My friend, who is a pretty relaxed guy, became visibly agitated, and began arguing that no matter how good the film might be it did a disservice. People who saw it, he argued, would think they'd gain some connection to the events of that day and to those who suffered the worst of fates.
I began to argue, but I stopped.
I suddenly remembered this same friend's face in a dark bar in the East Village in mid-September, 2001. He and I had been working from home for two weeks, as our offices--across the street from Ground Zero--were inaccessible, horribly damaged and covered in the ashen remains of the two towers and their occupants. I remember asking how he'd been, and he told me he'd been better. That day he'd been to his sixth funeral in two weeks.
Many of his close friends coming out of college had promising careers at Cantor Fitzgerald, a powerful bond-trading firm on the 101st through 105th floors of Tower One, eight floors above the impact. He spent weekends with them, knew their spouses, and had played with their kids. He's spent two weeks with those people, coming to terms with the fact that they would never come home and sweep them into their arms again.
I watched the towers falls from the highway north of Ground Zero. I hugged a woman who I haven't seen since as we watched the cloud rise over the site. I spent the day frantically trying to reach friends, slowly but surely hearing from each of them that they were OK.
But what I went through was nothing.
And as my friend pressed his point about the movie, I fell into silence. True-life tragedy as entertainment, regardless of how it may inspire or move us, is not victimless. The talking heads on TV or Capitol Hill may summon the date like some powerful ancient spirit to conjure fear and anger. We can ask our friends, "Where were you?" or "Do you remember life before that?" We can even pause, light a candle, and say a prayer. But afterwards we will move on. We will look forward. We will rebuild.
But there are some that cannot. Who will never be the same. Who will always feel a pain and loss deeper than the rest of us can imagine.
It's with them that our thoughts should be today.