The Things That Shape Us

It’s just television, right?  Fictional television at that.  An escape from all the tasks we have to accomplish.

I’ve written recently how much I’m enjoying Aaron Sorkin’s new show Newsroom.  This isn’t specifically about the show, but more about how things that are meant to distract and entertain can sometimes evoke powerful thoughts.

I’m running behind, but I just finished watching an episode entitled 5/1.  The premise of the story was the network reporting on the death of Osama Bin Laden.  The show told the story in a few ways I hadn’t seen before.  First was a girl amongst a group of her colleagues, all who were celebrating the death of Bin Laden.  She couldn’t celebrate because she had lost her father on 9/11.  There were a couple of others, but the one that hit home for me was an executive producer who’s part of the cast being stuck on an airplane not far from it’s gate, unable to get off and help report the story.

When he starts to cause a bit of a commotion, the captain comes out to deal with the situation.  The executive producer freezes, realizing that nobody on the plane actually knows the news yet since it hasn’t been reported on air.  The EP tells the captain that the US has captured and killed Bin Laden, leading the captain and his first officer to embrace.

While I think we all know it intuitively, I think it’s still worth repeating that we will live with the memory of 9/11 for the rest of our lives.  My father remembers Vietnam, his grandfather the world wars that came before.  The scene with the pilots strikes a chord for me as a frequent traveler.  I get on planes more often in a year than some people will in a lifetime.  We take so much for granted, and yet I wasn’t on an airplane that day.  I have a wife and two lovely kids.  So many people from that day will never have that chance.

I’ve gotten to know the story of Jason Dahl, a United Airlines standards pilot who wasn’t supposed to be on flight 93, but swapped schedules with another pilot on that fateful day.  There are over 2,000 stories just like Jason’s.

These memories shape us.  Nobody who lived through 9/11 will forget where they were when they heard the news.  I was working in an office near Dulles airport.  My colleagues and I stepped outside to hear fighter jets scrambling from the South end of the airport.  That was our first inclination that “this was real”.

I don’t begrudge television for bringing these memories up. But, it’s been a while since I had a powerful reminder of 9/11.  So, it took me a bit by surprise.  In this context, the normal hassles of travel (delays, rude employees) seem small compared to the sacrifice some have made.

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