I woke up at 6a.m. thirteen years ago on September 11 2001. I was living on the West Coast, and soon started hearing the news coming in on the same clock radio that woke me. I was groggy still, but had a friend that worked in the World Trade Center in Manhattan. A handful of months before this particular morning, she took us to the office that she worked in, and showed us around, and I marveled at the enormity of the structures, how each tower seemed to contain a world within, elevated above a river view that was fantastic, the stuff of city dreams.
The morning was filled with some frantic phone calls. Was she ok? The whole city was in turmoil, and it was impossible to get a hold of her or anybody else. Then came the images on TV; the horrifying iconic images of fire and destruction; people jumping off the side of the building; the towers collapsing. News from the Pentagon. News from somewhere in Pennsylvania. Bad news. Terrible news.
We heard from our friend a day later. She sent us a terse note: she was unharmed, since she got delayed, and chose to go in a bit later than usual. The trains were all stopped, so she didn’t even get in to the city from Jersey. Her workplace was completely destroyed. She lost some coworkers. And her life changed, radically and unexpectedly.
The whole world changed, of course, with different people more affected than others. Immigration changed procedurally, and that affected me personally as a non-citizen, with entry-exit protocols that were often frightening. I had never been fingerprinted before, for example. I was, on occasion, chosen for a random frisking, which wasn’t really random. But all that, honestly, was nothing compared to what others went through. Innocents were bombed, along with many who were absolutely not innocent of violence (collateral damage, through drone attacks, were appalling to read about); governments toppled, and what filled the void still fractures the geopolitical landscape, thirteen years later. Maps have changed in the Middle East, and, to a certain extent, in Central Asia.
Thirteen years later, we’re running bombing campaigns, but this time, on the entity that grew out of the first round of bombing campaigns. While that is a simplification, it isn’t a wholesale retelling. It stands as a simple statement: we’re doing something similar to what we did thirteen years earlier, because stopping military engagement now would be naive. You can’t just stop and wash your hands off something you had a part in creating. A complex region’s government, though horrendous, wasn’t properly replaced with something lasting. This chapter of history absolutely is not done. The mission is most certainly not accomplished.
All this to say, quickly, that I won’t forget how the world was thirteen years ago. Which is similar to how it is now, but arguably worse in some parts. This isn’t a reflective milestone, looking back at a closed book full of a completed history. This is now, and this is ongoing.