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September 11: Reaction and Reflection

(Fair warning: Non-sports post.)

Every so often, but especially each September, I remember looking south from Washington Square Park and seeing the World Trade Center towers burning and billowing smoke.

It was the defining moment of a generation. Already, we've attained some distance. Most high schoolers were too young to comprehend what happened on even a basic level. Young people whose adolescence was shaped by 9/11 and its aftereffects are full-blown adults and reshaping the world.

The country's changed dramatically since then. I've changed a lot since then. Hell, I've changed a lot since just last year. (I cringe when I read some of those words.) But what I imagine I'll always remember, and what I'll always emphasize to people who ask about the experience, is the sheer sadness that descended on downtown Manhattan.

I hesitate to claim an authority on the point, but from experience talking with friends who were there and friends who weren't, I sense far more sadness and far less anger from people who were in New York or near the Pentagon than those who weren't anywhere near where planes crashed. I think that's because proximity bred empathy.

It's okay to be angry about what happened, but I can't understand people who don't feel the core sadness of 9/11, that watching, in person or on television, as thousands of people met violent deaths simply did not have to happen. I think it's the difference between reacting and reflecting: anger is a logical outgrowth of immediate reaction and tends to objectify its targets, whereas reflection and examination necessarily require empathy. Those of us old enough to remember owe it to ourselves to reflect, to empathize, because if you're angry, you can't imagine a reality better than the one that day gave us.