A 9/11 Forget Me Not

In a word, “no.”

This day – one that will live in a lesser infamy than Pearl Harbor, as a time when our self-declared enemies intentionally selected non-military primary targets to show us our vulnerabilities and terrify those willing to be cowed – will not define me. It will not rule me by fear. It will not buffalo me into hatred. It will not take my life.

It won’t even take this day.

Some of us can’t help repeating the truism, “I will never forget.” No, you won’t. I won’t. None of us who watched our soaring national

Flag over a log house deck, at sunset in Montana

dreams burn on live television ever will forget. Most of us remember just where we were and what we were doing when we heard, those images etched across memory in crackling colors and sizzling sounds. We are owned by our past, but not ruled by it.

That day didn’t change my life less than most. It motivated the quick, small things one does: blood giving, checking on relatives, charitable donations, outreach to our suddenly more isolated Muslim neighbors.

In my own case, 9/11 catalyzed bigger moving pieces in my life leading to career swerving, another military hitch, overseas friendships, injuries, divorce, the end of religion, reestablishing hobbies, and better understanding of my kids.

“Where were you when the lights went out?” is a question that lingered long after the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965. My DSC_0071mother used to tell us stories about the Columbus Day Storm that roared through the Pacific Northwest two years before I was born; about VJ Day and the Tillamook Burn that crackled through the Coast Range from before she was born until she first pulled on pedal pushers for a high school sock hop.

Wondering whether such epic historic events would ever galvanize my own existence was as trite as it was callow. We find these blazing moments or make them, wrapping our memories onto these armatures of history in intricate layers.

We allow them to define us. Perhaps we demand it, measuring ourselves against the grandest heroes and most despicable villains we can identify, shaping the soft clay of our own stories around the immutable typography of agreed history. Our moments are as bright, as remarkable, as horrible as any that have passed over the rocks of the past to be washed and softened and finally frayed away. There was no better, brighter, godlier world. This is no fallen world.

It is a falling one. Feel the wind in your hair. Smell the history rushing past. Every dog knows: that’s the scent of your life. It’s happening right now.

dogs on beachNo, I won’t forget. Not 9/11, and not those remarkable Americans who poured into New York City to make it not new, but ready for life. I won’t forget crunching through the rubble of al Sarai with mud and blood and human waste caking my unshineable boots. I won’t even forget those defining events that happened so far beyond my experience or even my lifespan that they are referents void of context, explained for me by books and newsreels and my ever-patient mother. I won’t forget, but neither will I be defined by those big, moving pieces of history.

Osama bin Laden has no more right to define my world – or even my worldview – than Miley Cyrus or Kanye West. The event he produced to satiate the world’s horror appetite – one that shambles on in the form of ISIS and in the cracking voices of thousands of jihadists growing lean on their diet of ignorance, exclusion, and patronized rage – is not where I choose to wrap my memories.

I have things to do, here in my life, where I live today; things to which no history will attach itself but mine. My dog needs walking, Gratuitous bike shot goes my wife needs loving, the bikes need riding, and those cabinets in the kitchen won’t hang themselves. There are hundreds of millions of Americans ready and able to add their efforts to making a good life in this good place. When history finalizes our arc through time as a nation of brothers and sisters, of great works and small kindnesses, of freedom for the many and tolerance for the odd, al Qaeda and its every cracked adherent will barely make a footnote.

As George Herbert is my witness, I will avenge the victims of that miserable crime in the only way that finally matters. The sun is shining now. I have a counter slab to collect, boxes to set, a dishwasher to install. Alex across the road has planks that need ripping; I have the saw to do it. I will live well here, in my country, among my neighbors, laying the individual stones of our small and vital memories onto this mighty edifice together.

This day belongs to no terrorist. This day is ours. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Not that we have forgotten.


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  1. This day is ours and we shall live it well. We become who we are because of where we’ve been and those we’ve met along the way. I’m honored to have you and yours as part of my community.

  2. I didn’t understand all the words (because I am German and my English is not perfect) but I think I feel the meaning…
    We were not involved in the terrorism like America but we (I) remember 9/11 as well. I personally see the the pictures before my eyes.

    But…I live this day…like I try to live every day

    But…my brain is not thinking like every day

  3. Fantastic. Just. Fantastic.

    My day was made earlier by your daughter prancing into my store and giving me an hour of her sweetness.
    You’ve just elevated that feeling again.

    Thank you.

  4. Jeanne Johnston says

    Dear beloved friend and his family,

    Thank you, Jack for your words that are on the counter side of much of todays comments on terror and Sept 11. Yes we remember where we were and how that day of confusion and determination became part of who each of us defines ourself. I remember the “united” feeling that was especially strong in our community and country for the nest year…..years……and how it is part of the fabric of each of us even now that the “united” is not so strong. We did feel it…we do know how that feels.

    I celebrate that your words insprire us to celebrate our here and now with those we love. I celebrate that you and yours are in my family and you honor me by allowing me in yours. Thank you.

  5. Who was it that said that the best revenge is living well?

    Maybe sometimes the only thing that we can do in the face of those that would bring us harm, or those who have actually harmed us, is to live our own lives fulfilled and as happy as we can.

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