Tragedy without a name remains fresh

I’m told often by people older than me that 9/11 is my generation’s Kennedy Assassination. It’s the day you never forget.

Fourteen years later, it remains so.

I worked in a newsroom in a state that had been attacked by an exploding plane. This was the news story of my career, which forced me and my colleagues to stop feeling, stop thinking about people jumping from buildings and fleeing a roar of buildings collapsing and do our job. We put out our newspaper’s first special edition since Pearl Harbor by 3 p.m. EST. Cars lined the street by the newsroom as our front office workers sold papers in car windows. While folks fixated on incomprehensible news, we went back to work telling the news. We put the paper out again by Midnight. My column helped anchor the front page.

Of course, I’ll never forget. I knew it then even when I struggled to describe what occurred:

Title: Tragedy Without A Name
Date: September 12, 2001
By: Andrew Scot Bolsinger

Soon, a name will be given to a single day so shocking, that for now at least, it defies naming.

World Trade Center Attack? No, that was just the opening chapter. Airline Terrorism? Does nothing to describe the heart-wrenching deaths of New York firefighters coming to the rescue of others.

Throughout the day, news anchors compared Tuesday’s horror — played out live before a nation’s astonished eyes — to Pearl Harbor as perhaps the greatest attack on American soil.

The very scope of it all — four hijacked commercial airplanes crashing throughout the East Coast, dive-bombing the Pentagon, destroying both towers of the World Trade Center, crashing in the country’s heartland — defies a name.

Evil does that. It transcends our capacity to imagine, much less name.

Fifty years from now we will remember where we were and what we saw when this disaster took place. By then, whatever name sticks to label this American nightmare will be remote history to the next generation.

It will be in history books. Other generations won’t grasp the terror, because by then, evil will probably find even more horrible ways to display itself.

But I doubt we will forget…

We worked from dawn to Midnight again the next two days, with more special editions and more grim news of a nation forever changed.  I had been filling in for the departed city editor and though I had applied for it, before 9/11 I wasn’t going to get it.

Just before lunch on Friday, my boss asked me to go outside with him and have a cigarette, one of the eight he carefully counted out each day that he allowed himself to enjoy. We tiredly sat at the picnic table. He flicked his lighter, holding it out to me in an awkward replication of 1950s cool. I leaned over and puffed. We both sat back and inhaled. We puffed again, smoke drifting up into the fall air.

My boss had always been a cut-to-the-chase kind of guy. This was no exception.

“Well I doubt we’ll ever have a tougher news cycle than this,” he said. “You proved you can handle this. The job is yours.”

I’ll never get over the bittersweet taste of that moment, of the success that came from tragedy, of the way my life went in a different path and the way a country also changed in ways we will never fully appreciate.

No, we will never forget.

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