The Way We Were

A photograph, partially torn at the corner and suffering from being stuffed into a drawer full of screwdrivers, wrenches, and assorted knick knacks and gewgaws reflected the fluorescent light in the kitchen off its scratched surface making it difficult to identify. Why we call it the "utility drawer" is beyond me. I suppose it's because anything and everything that doesn't have its own place eventually ends up being carelessly thrown in there -- parts of one's life that defy categorization or stuff that we can afford to forget about.

The picture is unremarkable. It is a photo of me from 6 years ago standing on a dock, the river over my shoulder. I'm wearing a Chicago White Sox hat pulled low over my eyes, protecting them from the bright sun. It is a picture taken by my friend Patty before a few of us went out for a late afternoon river ride.

The date time stamped on the back was September 9, 2001.

Interesting how photographs pull memories out of your head as a magician pulls rabbits out of a hat. You don't think about a particular day or experience until something else acts as a catalyst and the memories all come back in a rush. For instance, sometimes when I smell strawberries I think of the lip gloss worn by one of my first girlfriends back in high school. The memories are so powerful, I can almost taste her lips on mine and smell the perfume she used to wear.

That's one of those memories that cause you to pause and smile, a warm feeling washing over you as the intensity of the recollection brings about an actual physical reaction. And then it's gone and try as you might, you can't conjure up that same memory with the same intensity until the next time you are caught unawares and whatever it is that triggers remembrance is set in motion.

So it was with this scratchy, damaged photograph I accidentally pulled out of a kitchen drawer yesterday, September 9, 2007. But the memory of the event that it elicited was fleeting. More to the point, the photograph acted as one part of a memory bracket with my own mind's eye in the here and now acting as its counterpart. I was looking at my pre-9/11 self and contemplating what I had become in 2007.

The radical coincidence of finding a photograph on the exact same date that it was taken years earlier was serendipitous. Would that everyone could be so lucky. In that late summer of 2001, there was no shadow moving across the land, no premonition of danger, not a clue that less than two days later the America we had gotten so familiar with -- omnipotent, invincible, striding confidently toward a fat, happy future -- would be brought so low. And all our silly pretensions about being immune to the evils that plague the rest of the planet would come crashing down in a series of searing, unforgettable images, dust and smoke blotting out the sun that just hours before shone so benevolently on a land seemingly oblivious to what evil was capable.

The photograph doesn't show that we were sleepwalking toward disaster for the previous decade. But the memory of what occupied the attention of the man in picture at that time is as clear as day to me. I was on vacation for the week and was going on a trip on Thursday. My biggest concern about flying at the time was that the cross country flight didn't allow smoking and I dreaded the thought of having to endure perpetual nicotine fit for the entire 5 hour flight.

If the man standing in the kitchen contemplating the past could have sent a message to the man standing on the dock in the photograph telling him about 9/11, you can well imagine what the reaction would have been. Disbelief, anger at such thoughts invading the complacency we all felt about our safety, and perhaps confusion - a profound befuddlement that surpassed his capacity to grasp that such things could happen in America or anywhere else for that matter. He would have had no frame of reference that could illuminate the terrible consequences of raw, unreasoning hatred directed against strangers whose only transgressions were in the fevered imaginings of a radical ideology that gave its adherents permission to commit murder in the name of God.

Time is not absolute. Our memories prove that. Reminiscing can bring the past back to us, telescoping time and space so that the smells, the tastes, and the emotions we felt at any given moment can exist in both the present tense and the yesteryear of our thoughts. It is a blessing and a trap that the human mind works in this way, gifting us with faces, events, and feelings from the long ago that bring joy to our hearts but at the same time, entangling us in unwanted skeins of retrospection, recalling all too clearly those times that are best left unremembered - orphan memories that no one wants but can't escape.

And if those memories can play tricks on us so as to cause us to recall events incorrectly, we rarely recollect false emotions or senses. I know that the man in the photograph and the man in the kitchen are the same person. But the emotional world of 2001 in which the man in the photograph lived did not include the 9/11 attacks or the realization that the slow, inexorable march of time would cover that open wound with a healing scab, lessening the horror but leaving behind an inexpressible sadness at what was lost that day.

We are the same, that man in the photograph and me. But the emotional wall between us that makes any real connection impossible is a direct result of the man in the kitchen having lived through 9/11 and its momentous aftermath. Try as I might, I can't quite recapture the absolute certainty I felt at that time that nothing in America would ever really change. It's not so much that I believed we would never be attacked. It's just that I and most Americans never had the thought enter our heads. It wasn't unbelievable or unimaginable. It simply didn't exist in this universe.

That, I suppose is the biggest difference between the man in the photograph and me. And to this day, that difference is coloring our politics, our culture, and refashioning America below the surface into a different place than the country inhabited by the man on the dock. No one knows what that America will look like a decade, two decades from now. The forces of denial and appeasement are strong. But I hope if I pull that photo out years from now, I will still recognize the world in which the man on the dock lived and recall the things he considered important and vital about America.

Rick Moran is proprietor of the website Rightwing Nuthouse and associate editor of American Thinker.
A photograph, partially torn at the corner and suffering from being stuffed into a drawer full of screwdrivers, wrenches, and assorted knick knacks and gewgaws reflected the fluorescent light in the kitchen off its scratched surface making it difficult to identify. Why we call it the "utility drawer" is beyond me. I suppose it's because anything and everything that doesn't have its own place eventually ends up being carelessly thrown in there -- parts of one's life that defy categorization or stuff that we can afford to forget about.

The picture is unremarkable. It is a photo of me from 6 years ago standing on a dock, the river over my shoulder. I'm wearing a Chicago White Sox hat pulled low over my eyes, protecting them from the bright sun. It is a picture taken by my friend Patty before a few of us went out for a late afternoon river ride.

The date time stamped on the back was September 9, 2001.

Interesting how photographs pull memories out of your head as a magician pulls rabbits out of a hat. You don't think about a particular day or experience until something else acts as a catalyst and the memories all come back in a rush. For instance, sometimes when I smell strawberries I think of the lip gloss worn by one of my first girlfriends back in high school. The memories are so powerful, I can almost taste her lips on mine and smell the perfume she used to wear.

That's one of those memories that cause you to pause and smile, a warm feeling washing over you as the intensity of the recollection brings about an actual physical reaction. And then it's gone and try as you might, you can't conjure up that same memory with the same intensity until the next time you are caught unawares and whatever it is that triggers remembrance is set in motion.

So it was with this scratchy, damaged photograph I accidentally pulled out of a kitchen drawer yesterday, September 9, 2007. But the memory of the event that it elicited was fleeting. More to the point, the photograph acted as one part of a memory bracket with my own mind's eye in the here and now acting as its counterpart. I was looking at my pre-9/11 self and contemplating what I had become in 2007.

The radical coincidence of finding a photograph on the exact same date that it was taken years earlier was serendipitous. Would that everyone could be so lucky. In that late summer of 2001, there was no shadow moving across the land, no premonition of danger, not a clue that less than two days later the America we had gotten so familiar with -- omnipotent, invincible, striding confidently toward a fat, happy future -- would be brought so low. And all our silly pretensions about being immune to the evils that plague the rest of the planet would come crashing down in a series of searing, unforgettable images, dust and smoke blotting out the sun that just hours before shone so benevolently on a land seemingly oblivious to what evil was capable.

The photograph doesn't show that we were sleepwalking toward disaster for the previous decade. But the memory of what occupied the attention of the man in picture at that time is as clear as day to me. I was on vacation for the week and was going on a trip on Thursday. My biggest concern about flying at the time was that the cross country flight didn't allow smoking and I dreaded the thought of having to endure perpetual nicotine fit for the entire 5 hour flight.

If the man standing in the kitchen contemplating the past could have sent a message to the man standing on the dock in the photograph telling him about 9/11, you can well imagine what the reaction would have been. Disbelief, anger at such thoughts invading the complacency we all felt about our safety, and perhaps confusion - a profound befuddlement that surpassed his capacity to grasp that such things could happen in America or anywhere else for that matter. He would have had no frame of reference that could illuminate the terrible consequences of raw, unreasoning hatred directed against strangers whose only transgressions were in the fevered imaginings of a radical ideology that gave its adherents permission to commit murder in the name of God.

Time is not absolute. Our memories prove that. Reminiscing can bring the past back to us, telescoping time and space so that the smells, the tastes, and the emotions we felt at any given moment can exist in both the present tense and the yesteryear of our thoughts. It is a blessing and a trap that the human mind works in this way, gifting us with faces, events, and feelings from the long ago that bring joy to our hearts but at the same time, entangling us in unwanted skeins of retrospection, recalling all too clearly those times that are best left unremembered - orphan memories that no one wants but can't escape.

And if those memories can play tricks on us so as to cause us to recall events incorrectly, we rarely recollect false emotions or senses. I know that the man in the photograph and the man in the kitchen are the same person. But the emotional world of 2001 in which the man in the photograph lived did not include the 9/11 attacks or the realization that the slow, inexorable march of time would cover that open wound with a healing scab, lessening the horror but leaving behind an inexpressible sadness at what was lost that day.

We are the same, that man in the photograph and me. But the emotional wall between us that makes any real connection impossible is a direct result of the man in the kitchen having lived through 9/11 and its momentous aftermath. Try as I might, I can't quite recapture the absolute certainty I felt at that time that nothing in America would ever really change. It's not so much that I believed we would never be attacked. It's just that I and most Americans never had the thought enter our heads. It wasn't unbelievable or unimaginable. It simply didn't exist in this universe.

That, I suppose is the biggest difference between the man in the photograph and me. And to this day, that difference is coloring our politics, our culture, and refashioning America below the surface into a different place than the country inhabited by the man on the dock. No one knows what that America will look like a decade, two decades from now. The forces of denial and appeasement are strong. But I hope if I pull that photo out years from now, I will still recognize the world in which the man on the dock lived and recall the things he considered important and vital about America.

Rick Moran is proprietor of the website Rightwing Nuthouse and associate editor of American Thinker.