But they were not present (or at least fully self-aware) at the creation of the historic drama that has tortuously led us to this satisfying day. They were not watching television when the massive debris clouds enveloped lower Manhattan. They did not see the brave firefighters rushing into those buildings. They did not see the second plane hit the second Tower. They did not witness the evacuation of the White House and the Capitol. They did not see a visibly emotional President George W. Bush standing atop the rubble next to that firefighter on September 14, 2001, pledging retribution. They don't remember a day in America -- like the rest of us do -- when no commercial planes flew through the sky.
Indeed, for them, there is no pre-9/11 America, a time when you could meet your party at an airport gate or get through security in a breeze without having to take off your shoes or have your genitals patted down. For them, there is no before, there is only the after. For them, there will never be the chance to compare and contrast the ways in which bin Laden and his followers changed in the span of just a few hours the very essence of the way in which we live and interact with the rest of the world. There is a gulf there, a fault line, really, that will last until the last American who remembers September 11, 2001 perishes from the face of the Earth. Only those who fully remember that day can fully appreciate what this news means.
This helps explain why, as the stunning and decisive news broke, these children surely saw a change in their parents; something they probably have never seen before. As a nation, again in the span of just a few hours, America was both transported back to the fire of 9/11 and freed in part from one of the surly bonds to it. And so the children, the millions of them who never saw in real time all the funerals and the pain and the suffering, saw instead Sunday night in front of the White House and at Ground Zero thousands of their fellow citizens dancing and celebrating the violent death of a man -- a sight they surely have never seen before in this country and likely won't ever see again.
They saw and heard their parents calling friends and family to share the news. A remorseless killer had been remorselessly skilled. Another American enemy had been put to rest. The man who orchestrated the biggest crime in American history had finally and brutally paid for it. For these children, it was perhaps the only chance they'll ever have to feel from the raw emotion of their parents as though they, too, were somehow a part of the events of 9/11. It was as though a brief window into our past had opened up and allowed our kids to feel just a tiny bit of the pain we all felt then. What a remarkable moment in their lives and in the life of our nation.