In lots of ways, September is one of the very best months we have. The fetid, humid wilt of August lifts into a cooler, cleaner late-summer balm. The sky is bluer and the clouds whiter and puffier than at any other time of year. Baseball games start to actually matter and corn is so sweet you don’t even have to cook it. Sure, there’s the inevitable reminder of aging and mortality that comes with tipping towards autumn, and when you were a kid, back-to-school time definitely sucked. (Except, not entirely. There was the excitement of novel possibility: Maybe you wouldn’t be such a dork this year? And new sneakers and pencils and fresh vinyl trapper-keepers into which one could carve the names of rock bands with a paper-clip. How lucky that there is an “H” in the middle of the both “The” and “Who!”) Really, if children were smarter or more honest, they would see the value in accepting human mortality, and they would realize and admit that by the end of summer, even they are sick of summer. Unless you’re Jimmy Buffet or Jack Johnson or something, September always comes as a relief. In fact, it should be a cause for celebration.
But in today’s world, it can’t really be that, can it? Certainly not here in New York. Because of the terrible thing that happened here ten years ago this month. This year, since it’s a rounder-numbered anniversary, we’re already being reminded—sometimes stirringly and eloquently, sometimes less stirringly, even by writers we admire. (If the “end of” a way of thinking can be pinned on that way of thinking’s inability to overthrow an “ever-more-powerful political-financial complex,” then many more ways of thinking than just irony have been much more ended than they have seemed for a long, long time.) There will be more gloomy remembering in the next couple weeks. There’s no way for September to escape its very recent history.
Not even in the simple terms of just enjoying a nice late-summer day. Last week, on Tuesday, we had one of those days, a beautiful September-style day in August. The brilliant blue sky, the cotton-ball clouds, the perfect temperature and clarity of the air. Then there was the earthquake. That night, my wife and I were walking on the street with her parents when we met a couple of their friends. We all told our earthquake stories, of course, and one of the people we’d just met said, “I knew something was going to happen today.”
“It was too nice out,” he said.
I agreed, sadly. I had been thinking the same thing earlier in the day. I imagine lots of people around the city had been. That’s one of the very worst things about this time of year every year now. Along with the lasting ramifications of a president launching a criminal war while at the same time cutting taxes and making everyone think they should get in on the “ownership society,” we can less fully appreciate these few short weeks of the year when it’s actually bearable to be outside.
Because we are all too busy “celebrating,” whether we want to or not, what September has become in the past ten years, a 30-day tribute to the lameness of life in 21st-century America. In 2004, we made it official: September is National Preparedness Month. As the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reminds us, this is “A time to remember. A time to prepare.”
Thanks a lot, terrorists.