That question, of course, is framed in generational and geographic myopia. This date sears the soul of those of us from a time and place in a way that makes it rise above all others. But does that make it scald any more deeply than April 4, 1968, or Nov. 22, 1963, or Aug. 6, 1945, or Dec. 7, 1941, or Nov. 9-10, 1938, or Oct. 29, 1929, or other dates back and back and back through the scalding dates of history?
For those who lived through them — or perhaps it’s more accurate to say survived them — they become indelible markers of the moments that changed us. It is hard to imagine that everyone else is not so changed.
But then we are reminded that history is as fleeting as it is forever. The dates that branded our grandparents become stories around the dinner table for us. Those that scarred our great-grandparents? Perhaps never heard of. So it will be with the dates we carry, like heavy cairns we dare not set down, for our children and grandchildren and beyond.
Perhaps that is why our stories matter, and why doing them well matters even more. They continue on when we don’t. Ideally they give pause and inspire someone to learn and do better next time — because there will be a next time. But even if all they do is remind us to remember, that is a lot. Without them, history would not be fleeting. It simply wouldn’t be.
So on this date, rather than avoid, I pause and reread and remember and learn anew. The trove I sift through feels as bottomless as the horror, but a few for sharing, in memory of all:
- Tom Junod’s now-classic “Falling Man,” published Sept. 1, 2003, in Esquire. It warrants a warning: Not all can look at the images that became human punctuation marks to an unimaginable choice.
- The late Michael Brick of The New York Times who, five years after the event, used numbers to mark the before and after of New York City. A sampler of his work was published as a tribute shortly after he died in February 2016. Storyboard asked writers to reflect on their favorites; Junod chose Brick’s 9/11 piece as “a little miracle of a story.”
- Hank Steuver of the Washington Post who, two days after the towers fell, wrote why the very mundanity of a Tuesday morning, 9 a.m., made it all the more chilling. Ten years later, Michael Kruse revisited that piece for Storyboard.
- Alex Tizon, now also gone, who crossed America from Seattle to Ground Zero in the immediate weeks after 9/11 to chronicle a changed nation. The full collection of his pieces, published in partnership with photographer Alan Berner, are archived at The Seattle Times, as is a second crossing they did a year later.