Something happened between Septem-ber 11 of last year and this year's anniversary. Last year, we marvelled that five years had passed since that dark day; this year, there seems for the first time a national feeling that 9/11 is, finally and irrevocably, a part of the past.
Mourning proceeds at its own pace, and for those who lost friends, co-workers and family on that day six years ago, no amount of time - not five years, six or 10 - may be sufficient to dull the hurt. That these loved ones perished in the course of a public tragedy only exacerbates the pain, as survivors are forced to endure endless replays and invocations of the day that fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters were taken from them forever.
Yet, even the character of the public mourning for 9/11's victims will be changed this year, as the ceremonies that have been held every year at New York's Ground Zero will be held, instead, at a nearby park. The 'footprint' where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood is now an active construction zone and so deemed unusable for the annual reading of the names of 9/11's dead.
Life goes on
In the country at large, life goes on, largely oblivious of the day. It no longer seems jarring to encounter September 11 as a day on which concerts, plays, even parties are scheduled. And, in Washington, September 11 is marked on the Senate calendar as the day for hearings "to examine Iraq, focusing on the Crocker-Petraeus report" - in a reference to the long-awaited report on the Bush administration's so-called surge strategy by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus.
If this is coincidence, it is a heady one. If it is not, then one wonders why the Democratically controlled Senate would assist in the administration's long-running efforts to tie Iraq to 9/11; perhaps Senate Democrats, with four of their number running for president, also seek the cover of that day in order to do what they feel they must do politically.
Lest we forget, September 12 also marks an anniversary - five years since President Bush spoke at the United Nations, a day after the first commemorations of 9/11, and unveiled his case for war with Iraq. "We cannot stand by and do nothing," the president told the General Assembly on that day, "while dangers gather. We must stand up for our security, and for the permanent rights and the hopes of mankind."
And so the administration will make the case, on this anniversary, to continue the war it rolled out on the heels of another anniversary, five years ago. Though the 9/11 hijackers and plotters were mostly Saudis, though they were based in Afghanistan, and though Saddam Hussein regarded al-Qaida as a threat to his rule - it is, ironically, in the context of the Iraq War that we are now most likely to encounter remembrances of that terrible day.
In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, this country stood as united as it has ever been, and very nearly the whole world stood with us. There was a once-in-a-generation chance to achieve common good through shared sacrifice at home, and effect real change with alliances abroad. In the time between that first seismic shock and the present, so many opportunities have been lost. What persists is a war we seem to know neither how to win nor end - and the dull, heavy ache, echoing more faintly each year, from the day when our assumptions about the world came crashing down at our feet.
Dan Rather is an American television broadcaster.