Sept. 11 falls on a Tuesday this year. It will be the first time since that other Sept. 11, six years ago.
Do you remember? Can you recall how difficult it was to even conceive of going forward from that moment? The events of that day had so thoroughly lacerated us that it seemed as if, in some small corner of our collective soul, the clock had stopped. In that corner, it would forever be 8:46 EDT on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Do you remember? If so, then the world as it stands six years later must come as something of a shock.
Six years ago, we saw people rushing to the World Trade Center site to search for survivors and recover bodies. Heroes, we said. Six years later, largely removed from public attention, many of those same heroes are sick and even dying, poisoned by the soot and dirt they breathed.
Six years ago, appalled and infuriated, the world rallied to our side. Candles and cards were left at our embassies. The French newspaper Le Monde declared "We Are All Americans Now." The Masai, a tribe in rural Kenya, sent us 14 cows, a gift regarded by their culture as sacred. Six years later, our president is trailed by angry demonstrators wherever he travels, and it is headline news when he is actually cheered in Albania.
Six years ago, we vowed revenge on Osama bin Laden, the wealthy Saudi who masterminded the attacks. We would bring him in, said the president, "dead or alive." Six years later, bin Laden is still free, and the president has said he is not particularly concerned about that.
Do you remember?
The terrorist attacks of six years ago this week are sometimes compared to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 66 years ago this Dec. 7. That is, of course, a reference to the shock, disbelief and anger Americans of both eras felt.
But there is a telling difference between 12/7 and 9/11. From the 1941 attack, there was forged a sense of national mission and purpose. Those feelings of shock, disbelief and anger became the building blocks of a consensus that we would do whatever, spend whatever, sacrifice whatever, until victory was won. After the attacks of 2001, by contrast, we talked national mission and purpose, but it soon became apparent that it was only talk.
Those feelings of shock, disbelief and anger became instead the building blocks of a political machine that duped the nation into a war of choice that had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks, eroded American civil liberties under the guise of protecting American lives and branded as traitors those who said, "Hey, wait a minute."
Worst of all, it squandered the moment, threw away a historic chance to build a national - and international - consensus that could have marginalized the architects of terror, maybe even reshaped the world, more effectively than all the bombs and bullets used to date in Iraq.
This anniversary, then, laments not simply the loss of life, but of opportunity. And perhaps the worst thing is, one senses most Americans are like their president: We don't think about bin Laden that much these days. He is not front-of-mind anymore.
So it is worth pausing here to remember that just six years ago, we were attacked.
Six years ago, people leaped from flaming skyscrapers.
Six years ago, flaming skyscrapers fell.
Six years ago, dust-caked people wandered the streets of New York City.
Six years ago, an airplane tore a hole in the Pentagon.
Six years ago, a hijacked plane crashed.
Six years ago, searing, airless shock was followed by resolve. Clear, cold, iron-fisted resolve.
Six years later, the shock is gone and it seems like the resolve is, too.
Do we remember? You couldn't prove it by me.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears in The Sun on Sundays. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.