In these days after the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the solemn ceremonies of remembrance already are receding into memory. The vividness of the attacks has been filed away, mentally, until next year’s anniversary.
But we’ve been thinking about what we felt 10 years ago this month in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. The nation endured a kind of sleepwalking, perched between what was, and the new and more sobering world then emerging.
All of this came to mind after we saw something Wolcott Gibbs wrote in The New Yorker after Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941, attack against American forces at Pearl Harbor. Gibbs’ remarks are included in “Backward Ran Sentences,” an anthology of Gibbs’ writing that will be published next month.
Here’s what Gibbs had to say about those first few days after the Pearl Harbor attacks:
“Actually there was an uneasy duality in most men all that week. The realization of an absolute change from yesterday was never continuous. People waking up in the morning forgot for a little while, people working at their desks forgot, people shopping, reading, going to the movies, playing with children all forgot briefly that they were at war. This happy state was always brief. There was always something to bring back the consciousness of total separation from the past, putting familiar faces and scenes into sharp, unaccustomed focus, giving the man who looked at them a sense of valuing them precisely for the first time, changing the identity of the man himself.”
Gibbs’ words made us think of those strange days immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when we also seemed to be walking through a dark and bizarre dreamscape.
It is not a feeling we choose to dwell on, and not one we hope to see revisited on our national life again.