We Promised To Remember

The 9/11 Memorial at Boston’s Public Garden

I’d had quite an emotional weekend in early September, 2001. On Saturday, September 8, I came home from a friend’s birthday party to find my mom, my sister and my then 11-year-old niece all hurting from sudden losses (my mom’s friend died unexpectedly and close friends of my sister forbade their daughters to have contact with my niece). In their grief, they found reasons to treat each other with anger. I kept a low profile, finding sanctuary Sunday and Monday chatting online with John about our upcoming wedding.

By Monday evening, tensions in the household had begun to ease, leading me to think I could resume enjoying my last few months in California. But I woke up Tuesday morning to the unusual sound of my sister sobbing wildly in the living room. I sighed, wondering what could have triggered another argument between her and Mom.

As muted sounds from the television wafted into my bedroom, Mom ran in yelling, “Two planes just hit the Twin Towers in New York! We’re at war!”

Suddenly we forget all our personal concerns. All the bickering gave way to horror as we sat transfixed in front of the TV, stopping only for meals that we had no interest in eating. Every time we thought we understood all the ramifications of the situations in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C., a news commentator would bring up aspects we hadn’t considered. Already we knew that America would change.

Some of those changes were good. Those changes, sadly, didn’t last, but they had a startling intensity. America pulled together in the following weeks, united by fear and outrage. Young men and women enlisted in all branches of the military, determined to defeat Al Qada and the Taliban. People flocked to churches in fervent hope that God would bless America. And each of us passionately vowed to remember.

Admittedly, my memory had dimmed also, but in different ways. In my case, the war seemed distant, as other matters — just as important — occupied my thoughts. Once in a while, I’d see soldiers waiting for trains at Boston’s South Station, and I’d ask John to thank them for keeping us safe, but far too often 9/11 conveniently slipped out of my thoughts.

Frankly, I didn’t want to remember.

And despite all the media reminders that would have taken place this weekend to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I suspect I wouldn’t have given it much thought. Our presence in Afghanistan had protected America from any more attacks, so I’d focused on other threats to our democracy. Other threats to Christians. I didn’t want to think about threats from those outside our country when progressives within our own government are causing so much upheaval and damage.

The past few weeks, however, have awoken me, even as they’ve exposed our federal government’s lethargy. Weariness from 20 years in Afghanistan dimmed President Biden’s memory. To be fair, Trump evidently had a bit of amnesia as well, since he brokered the original deal with the Taliban. But I doubt Trump trusted the Taliban as completely as Biden does. Watching the outright sloppiness of handing Afghanistan over to the very people that orchestrated the 9/11 massacre in the first place — especially mere days before a major anniversary of the attacks — screams forgetfulness of why we fought over there. But it reminds me.

That day 20 years ago, we promised that we would never forget. It troubles me that it took Biden’s blunder to remind me.

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