Is there anything to be gained from watching it yet again? You can see it in your mind's eye, can't you, even with all the screens turned off? The obscene taking of innocent human life. Grand dreams and noble aspirations snuffed out by exploding hatred.
If you watch it now, a couple more times, or a dozen, or a hundred, under the amber glass of the internet, will that count as much as one person watching it, live, while it was actually happening, on the scene, hearing it, smelling it, feeling the heat of it?
It was as close to a glimpse of hell as we have ever gotten -- and there was no place to avert one's eyes. Red-orange fiery death, and then a smoky plunge to more death, mass murder played out on video screens in every home, in every workplace, in every bar, in all the hospital rooms and on all the monitors in the video sections of the electronic stores. And what we saw was not coming to us from some far-distant battlefield, or from some capital square in a country where nobody spoke English, or from some spooky street in Texas that we'd never been on and would never ride down, or from a dimly lit hotel kitchen somewhere in California, or from the balcony of a fleabag motel down south. It was ground that we all knew, a place where many of us had stood and posed for tourist photos not long before. We had magnets on our refrigerators from this place, which now no longer existed.
We had no real clue what was next, but suddenly we noticed that the flawless blue sky of late summer no longer had the bright light it had had on Labor Day. They grounded all the airplanes, except the military fighters. It was quiet, too quiet. Even fear didn't say much, but it didn't have to. A few days later, its letters would arrive in the mail.
We looked at our kids. They looked up at us. If they were old enough to ask the questions, we really didn't have good answers.
The hospitals set up emergency first aid stations in Greenwich Village for wounded people, but there were few survivors to help. Some of the missing were never found. There was stench, and poison gas, and fires, which went on for weeks. We wanted an eye for an eye, and many of us hated ourselves for that, but it couldn't be helped.
The Times undertook to run a small obituary for each and every one of the dead. They produced pages and pages, sometimes a couple of sheets a day. They eventually got around to nearly everybody. It took months. It was inexorable. We would read them night after night until tears would come.
There are days now on which it seems that things have gotten progressively worse for America since then. Yes, we should be thankful for eight more years of life. Eight Fourth of Julys, eight Christmases and Hanukkahs and Kwanzaas and Ramadans, eight birthdays, eight World Series, eight "buy nothing" days. But so many of our worst traits have come back to punish us. It seems to be getting ever darker. We have a lot of new problems now, and the terror of that day is fading into the background a bit. But the day before it happened was surely a better time for our country than today will ever be.
Is there anything to be gained from watching it yet again? If you think there is, you know how to call it up, right now, right where you're sitting or standing. But think about whether it's worth it. It's going to hurt you, diminish you, take something away that you might need later.
Watching it as many times as we have already -- has it helped us turn anything around? Maybe what we need to do is turn it off and never look at it again.
Or should we go the other way -- watch it again, many more times, not just once a year, never forget, click replay on a regular basis? Maybe our eyes will finally see, somewhere amidst the unspeakable horror, something that was planted there for us to see.
When we fall down, we like to declare that we'll rise again, stronger than ever, some day. But lately we're realizing that sometimes we promise more than we could possibly deliver. Maybe what we said after this tragedy was one of those instances. Let's hope not.