We are visiting family in another part of the country and having a lively conversation about David Eagleman, the neuroscientist, and how a childhood accident left him with an insatiable curiosity about Time. Eagleman had fallen off a roof and survived, sans most of the cartilege in his nose, but having experienced during the fall a slowing down of time that would shape who he was and would become. Many accident victims report something similar, and the suggestion is that time is perhaps far more malleable than we suppose, or perhaps it is just our perception of time that is squishy, or possible there is no difference between time itself and how we perceive it.
Before long, the older people around our brunch table were inevitably drawn to memories of 9/11, the day we Americans got a horrific reminder we were not invulnerable from the violence that many other people around the world live with on a daily basis. This conversation seemed oddly related to the previous one in my mind, because it has become almost cliche to note that time also stood still for many of us on that September morning. We remember with astounding clarity where we were when we first learned of the attack. Some were watching their favorite morning talk shows, others were at work, others were away from home (like us) on vacation. We remember who we were with, who notified us, and when we got the news, exactly the moment we became fused into one nation, watching the horror unfold — like exceptionally well-done special effects, noted someone — then repeated and repeated throughout the morning in what has since become a media tic.
What I recalled of that time, with something of a sinking feeling, was how quickly the event itself — once we became exhausted by those awful first images — got lost in translation as we attempted to got understand how this could possibly have happened to us. Why do They hate us? we wanted to know. Who could have foreseen the macabre celebrity many indulged in, claiming a relation or friend or friend of a friend among those who perished. Six degrees of separation bringing us all together first in a sense of national unity rarely seen since, then swiftly dissipating into something less admirable.
I wonder how many of the families of 9/11 really want this annual reliving of their terrible losses, culminating in this anniversary? Are they eager to revisit the moment when, like for victims of an accident, time literally stood still. And after which, they would feel themselves permanently changed. There are a few among the families of those who died willing to say they are exhausted by the annual rituals of mourning. How courageous they are to declare what many of us are thinking: Enough.
There were children at our table today, listening quietly. After awhile, a 13 year old echoed this: Wasn’t it time to move on, he asked us, his elders. If we keep on reliving this every year, the terrorists will have won. Something to ponder on this sobering anniversary.