In 2001, we lived in Arlington, Virginia, a few miles from the Pentagon. Following the attacks of September 11, flags were hard to come by. So many people sought them that stores were sold out. The one we eventually hung outside our front door came from friends from the Midwest, who’d not managed to take their old and worn flag to the VFW for disposal.
Having once lived where the attacks resounded for days and nights and weeks and ever after — where life and lives were changed because of them — it’s unsettling to find myself some place where they’re not remembered at all. I woke this morning to an NPR story about this day that explained, with calm and dignity, “Communities are commemorating the day in their own way.” I loved hearing about the simplicity of the school in South Carolina where students would raise the flag and sing the national anthem.
I turned to local news sources and my campus’s web site, looking at how the day was being acknowledged here. It wasn’t. The closest we came to recognition of this day in history was an editorial in the student newspaper proclaiming it time to forget.
I’ve always avoided public ceremonies and local speeches, listening instead to the ones broadcast from where I was when it happened, but a sole voice suggesting we consign the event to history suggested that I’d come to a strange place indeed. Since that opinion piece appeared to be the only local commentary on Sept. 11, perhaps the rest of the community has already acquiesced. I don’t expect the rest of the world to share my sense of unease this day, to hesitate the way I do when it comes to scheduling activities in the square marked Sept. 11 on the calendar, or to feel my general reluctance to be in public places this day. This order of silence, though, seems like something else.
While I know people who use this day speak out about what it was like the day the planes hit the Pentagon, evangelists who explain the world-was-ending chaos of being there, I’ve never been one of them, nor do I want to be. In 2001, when things settled down enough to think, I wrote part of a magazine story about how libraries responded to the attacks and the subsequent disruption. These days, my commemoration is private — a phone call to the friend with whom I spent that day in 2001, the first person that I saw and connected with as we waited for word of what was happening around us. It’s our tradition, and one that I’ll renew this year, too, while the people where I live now talk about something else.