My sister and I visited the World Trade Center in the fall of 1993, right after I’d graduated from USC. It cost money to go up to the observation deck, which I thought was a little bit tacky. Even so, I paid the seven bucks – I think it was seven bucks – and went up the elevator to the floor surrounded by glass windows to look out on the world.
You could see the Statue of Liberty from up there, as well as Governor’s Island, which I had never heard of until I saw it from near the top of the World Trade Center. The view was focused on the ocean beyond Manhattan, but you could also look out the side of the building and see the other tower staring back at you.
The primary thing I remember about the experience was a feeling of vertigo and instability. I felt so high off the ground that I was afraid to even approach the windows for fear of falling through them. I imagined what it would be like if one of the towers started to sway and hit the one next to it, like a colossal domino. I’m not saying I had a premonition of 9/11 – I doubt anyone at the time could have imagined something that evil – yet the thought of the towers collapsing was very much on my mind. It didn’t seem natural that something so massive could stand firm, unaided, without wobbling once in awhile.
I remembered that feeling when I saw the images of people jumping away from the flames and falling to their deaths. The only time I’d been in that building, I wasn’t even willing to walk up to a heavily fortified window. What would it take to make me willingly hurl myself out of the tower to plunge to my death? Those images brought the horror of the 9/11 attacks home to me in a way that nothing else could.
We’re in the process of forgetting 9/11. We don’t show the images on television; our memorials become smaller and less assuming with each passing year. That’s inevitable, but it’s happening more quickly than I’d supposed. December 7, 1941 is a day that will live in infamy, but fewer people acknowledge it as World War II becomes an increasingly distant memory for those who were there, and simply a matter of history to the majority of us who were not. But had the Pearl Harbor memories faded by 1948 as quickly as the 9/11 memories seem to be slipping from us?
I’ve heard the excuses. We haven’t been attacked since, something that the Bush haters seem to think has happened by accident. That’s a tremendous blessing, but it also gives us the illusion of safety. Barack Obama’s campaign has a distinctly September 10th feel to it – he’s asking us to withdraw, to retreat, to pretend we don’t live in a dangerous world.
And we do. We live in a world where some people rejoice when they see an infidel leaping to certain death 110 stories below.
That’s a terrifying thought. And it’s one that 9/11 should never allow us to forget.