Last week, I almost wrote a post about 9/11. It was something I’d been thinking about in a new way, for a couple reasons. For one thing, when I was tutoring a class of 3rd-4th graders last year, we covered a history timeline from the ancient world up to present day events. I only realized when we reached the line for September 11, 2001, that my students had all been born after the attack took place. For them, and for future generations, that event must seem as old as the Cold War or the Clinton scandals seem to me.
For another, we had a trip planned to DC last week. We happened to fly out on the 11th. Flying on September 11th, to the East Coast, made me consider a number of possibilities, including at very least the potential for extra security at the airport.
Nothing major happened, though. I didn’t really notice anything different from the other times I’ve flown. We had a great trip, walked through a couple hundred museums, saw panda bears and T-Rex fossils. We even had a good—and very long—flight home.
But, when we started our trip back this Monday, with a walk from our hotel back to the train station, we stopped to eat lunch in a park just a couple of blocks from the Capital building. We had talked about walk down earlier to visit the Capital, but decided not to complicate our day. Instead, we had a leisurely morning and time to stop for lunch on the way to the station.
As we sat in the park, we noticed a couple of security agents coming down the steps on one side of the park. Then two others showed up. All of them seemed to be carrying assault rifles, and the group casually converged on a guy sitting at the bottom of the steps. We certainly weren’t used to seeing that, but it didn’t seem to be anything important.
We finished our lunch and strolled across the park and up the steps for a last look at the Capital building. When we came back down, a couple guys from security were still talking to the man, but it still didn’t seem to be anything important—just a casual checkup.
A couple of hours later, after shuttling from the train to the airport, we were waiting in line for security. Standing there, waiting to go through, I heard someone mention a shooting. I got out the iPad (that far too-handy electronic device) and looked up the news, only to find an article about the Navy Yard shooting.
My best guess is that the security agents we saw were just checking things out. The man in the park may have resembled a description they had, or maybe someone had been spooked and reported something, but it gave me the odd feeling of being close to an otherwise foreign event.
And it reminded me of my earlier thoughts about 9/11—how easy it is to forget something, to forget the first emotional reaction to a tragedy. It’s the difference between remembering it, and having it happen to you.
I can’t imagine the trauma and grief for those families affected by the Navy Yard shooting, or 9/11 for that matter, but I know they will remember long after the rest of us catalogue those days with the Maine and the other historical tragedies.