My wife had forgotten to email something home to herself and it was pressing, so yesterday evening before dinner I drove her over to campus. She's a professor and her department caters to graduate students only. We were on our way to her office when we ran into a couple of her students, there for an evening class with another professor. We're in New York State at a state university, so the students tend to be in-state.
The conversation was pretty short as their class was about to start, but one of the topics it ran to was 9/11. We were talking about my daughter, who has a history teacher she likes, unusual because she does not like the subject. The teacher used to be a helicopter-based traffic reporter in NYC and was in the air over Manhattan on 9/11. That's a perspective I'd love to hear about, but that's not the perspective in the title.
The students talked about being very young when it happened, like about seven years old. That was enough of a curve - I'm getting old. One of the students was from Long Island, obviously pretty close to the events, and he said something completely unexpected:
He thought of 9/11 as a local phenomenon, by which I mean strictly local. He made a remark indicating that he didn't think people in the rest of the country paid much attention to it. I stopped him and said the phenomenon absolutely was not local. He replied that, you know, I mean people out on the Midwest who have no local connection to New York.
I was in Indiana on 9/11 and told him so. People there sure didn't view it as local. I wouldn't assume any Americans did but I guess if you're seven years old you don't know that and maybe no one ever tells you.
Having grown up in New York, I'm aware of how parochial it is. That old New Yorker cover with the world map was barely exaggerated - if you're not from New York, you won't understand how barely.
It's funny how diametrically opposite my perspective on 9/11 is from that of my wife's student. As a former New Yorker but one who has spent most of my life out of New York, I'm conscious of how it's viewed. One phenomenon that really struck me about 9/11 - and which I never saw discussed anywhere - was how New York's metaphorical location changed. At 8:00 AM on 9/11, most of the country thought of Manhattan as maybe a hundred miles West of France. Four hours later it might as well have been next to Omaha or Oklahoma City. It went from being distrusted as too foreign and too disconnected from Real America to being the most American location on the planet in the course of a morning.
I'd have told the student that people knew where they were on 9/11 like they did when the Kennedy assassination happened but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't get it.