My Flickering Pandemic Memories

Memories of the pandemic are slipping away. Better write them down before they’re gone.

George Dillard

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Photo by Kai Pilger on Unsplash

What do I remember about 9/11?

I recall little snippets, mostly. I remember watching the second plane hit the tower on a little portable TV on the receptionist’s desk at work, and the sinking feeling of certainty — this was no accident — that came with the images. I remember watching the towers collapse on that same TV, a reality I hadn’t thought possible until the moment it happened. I remember the days after, the constant drumbeat of news — there was nothing else on TV for a while. I remember George Bush and his bullhorn on the rubble. I remember being told — and believing — that this was just the first of many future devastating attacks, that we would live in a new age of terror.

I didn’t live close to New York at the time and didn’t know anybody who was killed in the attacks, but even so, 9/11 was a moment where the ground of history shifted beneath me. I had believed that things were one way, that there was one set of possibilities — but another set of facts turned out to be true. Many more things were possible than I had understood.

Now, I teach about 9/11 to my history students. They have lived their whole lives in the world after 9/11. They are as far removed from 2001 as I was from the end of the Vietnam War when I graduated from high school in the 1990s.

They understand the basics of that day, of course — they’ve grown up in a world defined by it. But they seem to find the whole thing simultaneously obvious and baffling — how could we not have seen it coming? Spending billions on airport security theater and surveillance seems faintly ridiculous to them. And the wars — they totally don’t understand why the United States launched into two disastrous conflicts with such heedless urgency and arrogance. It’s not just that they disagree with these things; they can’t see how they were possible.

I think that this is because my students, while they can understand what happened, can’t really understand how it felt at the time — how unsettling, how strange, how dark and dreadful it all was.

If I’m being honest, it gets harder for me to summon those feelings as the years go…

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