Remember the world before 9/11? Some of us actually don't

In the days following the 9/11 attacks, there was an incongruous peacefulness about our place. Over the years living in Columbia, we'd gotten used to the frequent drone of passenger jets coming in and out of nearbyBWI.

While federal agencies regrouped and overhauled security at the nation's airports, they shut down civilian air travel for several days, and our skies were eerily silent.

Now plane travel is back to normal, albeit a new kind of normal.

Perception is all about perspective.

For those of us who were already adults when it happened, memories of 9/11 include disbelief, fear, anger, confusion. The thing my two daughters, then 10 and 7, remember most about that day is baking.

As events unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001, someone brought a television into our newsroom in the old Flier building, at the other end of Little Patuxent Parkway from where our little office is now. People from every department huddled around the set in editorial to try to make sense of it all.

WJZ reported that Howard County schools were sending students home early, so I and other parents hustled out to retrieve our children. When I got to Phelps Luck Elementary, I learned that the schools were not, in fact, closing early.

However, since so many parents had shown up to claim their kids, early dismissals were the rule rather than the exception. It was clear that whatever learning was to take place that day would bear little resemblance to what was on the lesson plans.

We here at the paper, of course, were busy reporting the local angles on the day's horrific events, and I had to get back to the office. So I left Hannah and Julia in the care of our friend and neighbor Louise Eyes, who has three kids of her own. The weather that day was picture perfect, but under the circumstances, Louise handled it much like she would have a snow day: She and the kids made cookies.

Anxieties lurked in the background for her young charges, sure, but by keeping the kids engaged in a fun and rewarding activity and not letting her own uncertainties get the better of her, Louise made sure the day's events didn't leave them with emotional scars. I'll always be grateful to her for that.

My girls are now on the threshold of adulthood and much more aware of the world around them. But they and others of their generation don't truly have a firsthand sense of what the world was like before 9/11. My generation can point to many changes, both trivial and profound. For theirs, though, things have always been more or less as they are now.

They've never been able to board a plane without first removing their shoes, have always seen the signs on the highway and in public places urging them to "report suspicious behavior," whatever that means. They've never known a time when America wasn't at war somewhere.

That might be the most tragic legacy of 9/11.

Our society hasn't been compelled to make the sort of sacrifices made on behalf of the war effort during World War II, of course, but the U.S. military footprint is in plain view in three different theaters of operation, and over the past 10 years news of those conflicts has rarely been far from our screens. Reports of people killed by roadside bombs or by fanatics with explosives strapped to themselves barely register anymore.

For a whole generation, a war footing is the norm, as natural as baking cookies.

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