When I first saw the smoke billowing from the tower I was disappointed. I was in seventh grade, gorging on American history, and had arrived at a very seventh-grade conclusion. The conquest of continents, the fortification of ideals, and the fights against evil empires were all the stuff of lore, far removed from my pacific suburban life. Dull minutiae seemed to occupy our government and fill headlines.
On that small screen, in those first minutes, the fire looked puny against the titanic corduroy steel surface. They would repair the damage quickly and life would resume as usual. Our bureaucrats were too competent; our system was too well thought out to allow for real catastrophe. To my frustration, history had come to an end. Well, we got catastrophe. We experienced incompetency. Our president made a lot of history. And though my disappointment lasted but a moment, I have regretted it for the last ten years.
To raise a family, to experience the satisfaction of a hard day’s work, to build and maintain a community, to love and be loved: these are the hard-won stitches in the fabric of the good life. It is not exciting. Battles and intrigues, visions of utopia, violent attempts to change the world: these great contortions of “history” are mere barbs in that fabric. The fame of one fanatic is the misery of a million families. Ten years ago it was the death of 2,977 Americans. History makes great books, but living it can be vicious.
So here is to competent bureaucrats, dull minutiae, the good life, and those who have braved the barbs of history to preserve it.
Nicolas Kemper is a 2011 graduate of Pierson College.