This is a Very Big Deal. We know this is a Very Big Deal because the retrospectives on cable news and the newspapers started weeks ago. We will be saturated with all things 9/11 for the next week.
But is the 10th year since this terrible tragedy any different than the ninth? The eighth? The fourth? I can’t be convinced that it is.
Why do we make such a big deal of anniversaries ending in a round number? We do this all the time — it’s been 40 years since we walked on the moon, or 150 years since the Civil War. In our personal lives, we’re supposed to make a bigger deal of turning 40 versus just 39 … or being married 50 years is somehow more special than 49.
My best guess as why we assign so much importance to round numbers is that it’s a little trick that allows us to sort our lives and history into nice, neat boxes that we pull off the shelve at regular intervals. We get all introspective about life for a moment and then put the box back on the shelf until another 10 years have passed.
To me, it looks like pop psychology at its most shallow.
We cheat ourselves when we do that. Taking stock of your life at 30, 40 and 50 — What are your career goals? What places do you want to visit and what are the things you want to do? — inevitably sets you up to fall short. You can’t lead a rich and fulfilling life if you only examine it once a decade. Daily life quickly consumes all that time in between and gets you off track. You go through the motions when you lack direction and focus.
That said, do I think we need to spend every day thinking about 9/11 and what it means to our lives? Not really. But I do think whatever your reaction to that event may be, you should try to do something little each day that reinforces your personal response. Monuments — and ground zero has one that will be soon open — usually have a fleeting impact on those who visit. A living memorial, however — i.e. how we live our lives every day — will touch far more lives than we can ever imagine.