Zeros

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What is it about adding a zero to an important anniversary that imbues that date on the calendar with extra mystique and weightiness? A child’s ninth birthday is not nearly as important as his 10th. No special gift marks a 49th wedding anniversary but the 50th deserves gold and the 60th, diamonds.  The only answer I can think of is that the additional import of a five or a zero is a nod to something deep within our inherently decimal nature.

Today, we add the first zero to the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the beginning of what is euphemistically known as The Global War on Terror.

This tenth passage of years means something more but I don’t really know why.

The victims trapped in the collapsing Twin Towers will be no deader. The passage of a decade has not lessened the heroism of the policemen, firefighters, and E.M.T’s who stormed the towering infernos that day, many dying with no idea what was waiting for them, only that people were in there who needed their help.

3652 days brings us no closer to understanding the thought processes aboard United 93 as high above a pasture in rural Pennsylvania, a plane full of doomed men and women rose up against the infamy, tyranny, and injustice of the moment and attacked where others may have retreated  or sat silent and in doing so saved an unknown number of lives at the cost of their own — passing into legend with the words, “Let’s roll.”

It’s been ten years now since our school secretary appeared at the window of my classroom door waving frantically for me to come over so she could utter the incomprehensible words, “They’ve just flown two planes into the Twin Towers!”

It’s a different world now.

Last night, Budge and I went to Cameron and Deuce’s home to watch football and between games, Laura brought out copies of Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times all dated September 12, 2001. The burning towers dominated each cover. Jacob, Cameron’s nine year old son, was fascinated by what he was seeing and reading and I faltered a time or two as I tried to explain the events of that day.

The Towers have never stood in Jake’s lifetime. The United States has never been wholly at peace in Jake’s lifetime. Budge has three classes of 4th graders who were all born in 2002. They know nothing about the America in which I lived my first 30 years.

How do you explain to a nine year old who is looking at the iconic photo “Falling Man” why a person would choose to jump out of a 100 story window rather than risk being burned alive? How do you describe or explain what “panic” really feels like? How can you help one so close to life’s beginning understand what goes through the mind of someone who knows without doubt that he has lived his last day, last hour, last minute?

Why does adding this zero bring the pain so close to the surface once more?

God only knows, and He isn’t saying.

Requiescat in pace, heroes and departed of 9-11-01. We, the living, have not forgotten.

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