“Everything is going to be different now.” That’s the one thing I remember my husband saying as he and I stared at the television in the living room of our home in the Seattle area on that fateful morning two decades ago. A phone call from my brother in Ohio had woken us at 6:30, and when Jim immediately reached for the TV remote, dread set in. Had there been a natural disaster? Had the president been shot? The idea of an attack on U.S. soil never entered my mind.
He was right, of course. In ways that were obvious immediately, and in ways that didn’t become apparent until much later. The unity and shared sense of purpose were a welcome change, albeit a fleeting one. The increased security around air travel (however necessary in the moment) was less so, on both counts. I remember the constant, low-grade fear of another attack. I say “low-grade” in that it felt inevitable, but we mostly didn’t change our behavior. People still woke up everyday and boarded planes or went to work in skyscrapers.
That perseverance reflected a kind of optimism. But one thing I find myself thinking about these days is our collective grief. We came to know the stories of so many individuals who lost their lives that day. Not just the heroes who stormed the cockpit on Flight 93 or the firefighters who led people to safety before going into the towers one last time and never returning. We also learned about everyday Americans, from finance professionals and advertising executives to waiters and janitors, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We came to know the widows and widowers of those who died, the children who lost parents. We grieved, and we felt a sense of duty to honor them.
I’m thinking about that mourning because we are living through a pandemic that has killed more Americans than the Civil War. And I just don’t sense that same sense of shared grief. There are some obvious reasons for it: The attacks of 9/11 were sudden and shocking. Civilians were targeted in an act of war. And it was an isolated incident, not a situation where people were dying every day for a year and a half.