I was sitting in my eighth grade English class, second period.
That’s the answer to the question you’ll hear answered a lot today, mostly without the necessary prompt of the question itself. I was packing up my copy of Max the Mighty when the loudspeaker clumsily explained that something was happening.
You don’t require an explanation of just what that something was, and I guess that’s the point. Suffice to say, Rodman Philbrick didn’t have a book in the library that could explain what happened that day. (The Last Book in the Universe probably got pretty close, but I didn’t consider it at the time…)
The term “decade” isn’t something I get to use often. I’ve only been alive for just over two decades, so it’s tough to consider the gravity of ten years without a sort of benchmark to make it stand out. The Bills not making the playoffs in over a decade is one thing, but Sunday night was one of those fairly remarkable events that leaves you seeing just a bit more clearly.
We are now a culture of reaction. Even the things we don’t care about require a corresponding tweet claiming our indifference. The Royal Wedding, Glee, English Premier League soccer and anything else others enjoy practically demands a yay or nay of some kind. In just under ten years the level of discourse in this country has changed so dramatically it’s hard to imagine loudspeakers were ever necessary to convey information.
Sunday night I sat on the couch at a friend’s house and tapped my touchscreen phone a few times, noticing that something was happening on Twitter. Two minutes later the New York Times had gotten confirmation Osama Bin Laden was dead and an hour later I was watching an online feed of CNN on a projector. President Obama delivered a speech I saw in its entirety in a house that doesn’t even have basic cable: they just stream or download anything worth watching on a computer.
If only 22-year-old me could venture over to Niagara Middle School and explain to the shell-shocked kid a decade younger just how this story arc would conclude on a Sunday night. Could I possibly explain why I would text messaging my managing editor to make sure the presses get stopped, crack open a Magic Hat and eat ice cream cake meant for no one in particular?
The world has changed, and it didn’t take an extremist dying half a world away to prove it. Niagara Middle School doesn’t exist anymore and Catch 22 is my new favorite book of all time. My hair is much different and I can grow a beard now. The Red Sox have won a pair of World Series.
Last summer I took a trip to Washington D.C. and wrote about history in the lounge of a hotel while the sun came up. What I didn’t write about was a detour into the Pennsylvania woods on the ride home. It was in a field in Shanksville where my family found a quiet impossible to explain to someone who hasn’t felt it for themselves.
That impossible sadness and calm still exists in New York City, and although the last decade or so has changed so much, that chilling quiet remains the same.
It’s not something you think about it every day, but on a Monday like this under a very different sky, that silence is all that comes to mind.