Friday, on my train back from Brussels, I was sitting next to an elderly man who had just gotten a new cell phone. Just a few minutes after the train departed towards Ghent, the man turned to me.
(first in Dutch and then English when I indicated I couldn’t understand the question) “Do you know if this symbol [pointing to the phone] means that I can listen to the radio?”
I had no idea (my phone can just make phone calls. And it has the game snake on it). But he struck up the usual train conversation: “so you speak English, where are you from? Ah! America, so far! What are you doing in Belgium?” etc. etc. etc.
After talking about the U.S. for a bit, the man asked me if I had ever been to NYC. This isn’t a very rare question and since I grew up in a town a couple of hours outside the city, I’ve been quite often. The metro newspaper lay on the table next to us, a picture of the Trade Towers on the front page. The man motioned to it: “Were you there when it happened?”
I wasn’t, nor was I close to anyone who was. I watched the events unfold as if it were a movie — from the relative safety of my living room. But seeing the images of that day crop up again in newspapers and on TV… that initial terror I felt all those years ago comes back. It’s an instant reminder of how a single event can change your world — the world — forever.
It’s amazing to think that there are kids that are sitting in school, just a few years younger than I was when I saw the events initially unfolding on the TV in my Algebra classroom, who don’t know a world pre-9/11, except for what is read from their history books.
Ten years. Ten years ago today my country was united as one; together we stand. Today we’re more divided than ever.
The New York Times has an interesting and moving special section, “The Reckoning“, on the events that occurred that day. Going through the testimonials, looking at the photographs and reading the analysis of the past decade poked and prodded at emotions I had packed into a special box in the corner of my mind. But it’s good to be reminded; the interesting thing about memory is that it is inherently tied to the present.