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Jewish World Review Dec. 10, 2001 / 25 Kislev, 5762

Bob Greene

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Your book of days
belongs only to you -- HARD as it is to conceive, Sept. 11 will not be the primary day many people think about when they look back on 2001.

Those people -- many, but by no means all, of them young -- will have a different day in mind when, years in the future, they think back to now.

Which day is it -- what day in 2001 will have the power to trump one of the most terrible and monumental days in American history?

The day will be different for each person.

And that's the good news.

Already, the commemorative books and magazines about Sept. 11 are rolling off the presses; a month from now, when newspapers and national magazines do their year-end wrapups, you won't be able to turn your head without seeing a Sept. 11 reference. This is as it should be.

But history is one thing, and life is another. And all over this country, all over this world, people will have their own days in mind when the time comes to contemplate the year. The private smiles, the inner sadness -- they won't be reserved for that Tuesday in September.

Someone looks at someone else across a room, and their eyes meet for the first time, and their lives change for the good forever -- that day, or that evening, is what those two people will recall, years from now, as they hold hands and reflect upon half a century of marriage.

Someone gets a phone call telling her that, after months of looking, the job she wants so badly -- her very first job -- is hers; years from now, thinking back to the launching of her career, that is the phone call, that is the day, that will surpass all others this year.

Out of nowhere, someone will be told that someone else is no longer in love; it will catch the person completely by surprise, it will come utterly without warning, and the hurt will be so deep that the day it happened will define 2001 until the person leaves this Earth.

A parent will die; a job will end abruptly; money will come unexpectedly into a life; money will unexpectedly vanish from a life. A child will be born; a friend will do something impossibly hurtful; an honor will be accorded; a house will be moved into.

None of these things will make the history books; none of these things will warrant a single headline.

Yet the day they happen -- the day they change a life -- will be the day during this year that looms above all others, forever. Sept. 11 is the banner headline for 2001, in the sense that too-large-to-foresee occurrences bind us all together.

But we are that -- we are part of the larger world, the all-encompassing family -- at the same time we're someone else. And when our memories return to this year, it's the lower-case us that will override everything. The us in capital letters -- the plural us, us as a group portrait -- will eternally be connected by Sept. 11. The us composed of individuals -- the us that is you -- will have other days.

It was true in 1941, when every young person was changed by what happened on Dec. 7 -- and when every young person had another day that, for separate reasons, may have lingered just as long. It was true in 1963, when every young person was shaken by what happened on Nov. 22 -- and when every young person had a private day that contained just as much consequence and weight. June 20, for the person writing these words. Aug. 4 wasn't so bad, either.

Each of us has his or her own days like that -- and it is not disrespectful in the least to concede the truth of this. It does not diminish the immensity of Sept. 11, 2001, to say there may be other days, for everyone who breathes air, that will define the year just as indelibly. It's comforting to know that. In a world that often seems too big for us to put our arms around, the knowledge that we each have our own, quiet history is a gentle affirmation that things are as they ever were.

On Sept. 11 of this year, people were born; on Sept. 11 of this year, people died far from New York or Washington, people whose deaths made no news at all. To the loved ones of those people, Sept. 11 will be the day in 2001 they never forget -- for different reasons than the rest of the world has. That's the good news -- the news that keeps us human. That is the news, in any year, that allows us to face each day.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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