We are all grownups now. Gone the playground mentality, that “are we having fun yet?” sensibility of the time we now call “before.” Before. When Americans could hold all this to be true: Goodbye was only for now; laughter would always feel light; and America would always be land of the free, home of the brave, and safe.
Suddenly, violently, America landed in “after,” where the image of two collapsing towers is the new collective reference point. After. Where a breathless, traumatized nation relies on a single date, September 11th, to convey something that eludes language. There is no word that captures anger, sorrow, loss, confusion. But there is a word for the process that comes out of each: Transformation. With a cinematic flourish that no one wanted, change began. And continues still.
Michael Ignatieff, Director and Carr Professor of Human Rights Practice at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government
Geneva Overholser, the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Reporting at the Missouri School of Journalism, in its Washington bureau