That day, again

I was supposed to send out a press release tomorrow, but the client called and told me she wasn’t comfortable sending anything out on September 11th. Not even in Singapore.

It’s really unprecedented, the way a date has been seared on the psyche of the world. I don’t know on what day Pearl Harbor or Hiroshima were bombed. Come to think of it, I’ve never known of any date, the mere mention of which would instill a rush of feelings and pictures and thoughts. And fears.

Right now, CNN is interviewing the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald on the eve of the big anniversay.

I remember how, living in Hong Kong at the time, the whole thing seemed kind of abstract and unreal. I couldn’t process it using traditional logic, even as I watched the holocaust unfold on cable news.

It was nearly a year later that I suddenly, unexpectedly came to understand the tragedy in all its vastness. It was a casual moment, when my mother mentioned how one of her friends had lost a son on September 11. He worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. And suddenly, instead of an inconceivable number like 3,000, 911 was reduced to one young man, 31 years of age, the son of a friend of my mother’s. And then I felt, for the first time, just how huge this tragedy really was.

It was an odd variation of the often quoted Stalin remark that if you murder one man it’s a tragedy, if you murder a million it’s a statistic. 3,000 was a statistic. Hearing it humanized, as an actual person whose parents are friends with my parents — hard to explain, but it touched my heart in a way that countless 911 newsreels and obituaries never did. And it made me more incensed about the crime: those bastards murdered the son of my partents’ friend. They murdered human beings with families and friends. Those who were murdered — they weren’t a number.

September 11. It wasn’t just one of history’s catastrophes, it was a date. We don’t refer to it as the World Trade Center attack, it is always September 11th, that one day, the day, after which things could never be the same. We can forget the anniversary of Hiroshima because we don’t remember it as a date. But every year we’ll have to deal with the next anniversary of September 11. Will there ever be a year when that date arrives when we don’t think of That Day?

Being here in Asia I have learned a lot about how America is perceived by others. I have all but given up arguing why September 11 was such a monumental event. Always the locals tell me how things like that have happened all the time in their histories, and it was only 3,000 people and what’s the big deal. And I only wish more Americans were aware of just how many people around the world, even in nations counted among our friends, were glad to see it happen, glad to see The Great America brought, for once, to its knees.

Two years ago since my mobile phone rang as I sat alone finishing my meal in a Japanese restaurant in Hong Kong, to hear my dearest friend tell me what had just happened. And here we are, two years and two wars later, the future of America looking more precarious and confused than ever, the perpetrators as motivated and evil as ever.

I guess I don’t have a point or a conclusion or an answer. I wanted to capture some of my thoughts while they were fresh. I’ll just let it go here. Let’s hope that as the years go by, memories of “that day” become a bit less acute.

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