Jewish World Review Sept. 11, 2011 / 12 Elul, 5771
Remembering the Day That Changed Us
By Mitch Albom
They are dead.
You wish this anniversary could change that. You wish 10 years was some sort of magic release date, that the murdered souls of
They are dead. That will never happen. Their children are teenagers now. Their teens are adults. They exist only in memories, in family stories, in photo albums and attic boxes and troubled dreams.
No roll call today will bring them back -- not even one read by presidents and governors. No etching of their names in a memorial will reanimate them. They stand as the fallen.
Not a single one was a target that Tuesday morning. Yet all of them were victims. It remains the most maddening fact of all, the randomness of terror, the idea that killing for the sake of killing ever could be viewed as a worthy cause.
They are dead. Nearly 3,000 of them. We cannot change that. But it can change us.
Is there any denying that?
He is dead.
Even death -- which he often predicted would prove his salvation -- came to him in a dark, hidden place.
He lived in shadows.
He died that way.
He was remorseless and evil, some say the devil himself, but even the devil serves a purpose, if only to know how not to live your life. In the decade since he gloated over airplanes that killed thousands -- including 19 of his own that he willingly sent to slaughter -- bin Laden went from an uncatchable Satan to a pathetic desperado, making scratchy recordings to bolster his relevance, seeing his efforts to convert even fellow Arabs to his dogma thwarted and rejected.
In the end, he never again masterminded anything close to
He is dead. He haunts no more. A 10-year anniversary with bin Laden free would be a different day than the one we will experience today. But we swore we would get him and we made sure that happened. He once predicted, in an interview with Al-Jazeera, that "the U.S. government will lead the American people ... into an unbearable hell."
Yet he is dead.
And perhaps there himself.
We are alive.
All of us who wondered, "What if it happens again?" All of us who ever looked nervously out an airplane window, or eyeballed a suspicious passenger, or hesitated to enter a sold-out stadium, or woke up on previous
We are alive. It has not happened. Yes, plots have been thwarted. Would-bes have been caught. We may never know the number of plans disrupted, discovered or discombobulated. But the most important fact is the most important fact.
No similar attacks.
Not in a decade.
We are alive. There's a reason for that. Either the enemy is less powerful and organized than our fears, or the numerous precautions we have (sometimes unpopularly) adopted are effective, or terrorism on a grand scale doesn't follow a 10-year timeline -- you can have two attacks in six months and not another for two decades -- or we are just plain lucky.
But we are alive. We have learned to live with threat and shadow. We rise. We laugh. We work. We shop. Those who remember the financial markets, the dire predictions, the prevailing sense of doom that covered the fall of 2001 must admit how quickly the nation bounced back in many ways.
We are alive.
There is no more precious sentence.
And yet ...
We are changed.
It is foolish -- even insulting -- to think we have circled back to the day before the attacks. Too many wars fought. Too much hate exchanged. Too much fear. Too much disruption in our daily lives.
Think only of a trip to the airport on
We are changed. Pat-downs are a way of life. Locked doors. Mandatory IDs. Allow two hours. Stand on endless lines. The clogging of our daily activities done strictly for security is immeasurable. And there is no going back.
We are changed. Our tempers are shorter. Our anger is at a quicker boil. Our relations with Arabs and Muslims -- here and abroad -- have been bruised and battered and both sides fight distrust while working toward a new calm.
We are changed in how we view patriotism -- some are sick of the word, some think it is the only word that matters. But few can say it means no more today than it did the day before those towers started burning.
What we tolerate. What we expect. Is there anyone who feels as free and easy in this century as we remember feeling in the last? Doesn't watching the news always seem to carry some ominous backdrop? Aren't our nerves more hair-trigger now -- when we hear of an explosion, a car bomb, white powder in a letter or hidden gas somewhere in a subway.
We are changed. And yet, when we need to be, we are the same. There may be a different president, a different economy, today may even be a season-opening
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
© 2011, THE DETROIT FREE PRESS DISTRIBUTED BY TMS, INC.