9/11 attack still haunts and defines us But eventually, like Pearl Harbor and the 1929 crash, it will retreat into history

Today is the second Monday in September. It’s the 254th day of the year. It’s also the day on which Christopher Brian Bridges, the rapper and actor better known as Ludacris, celebrates his 40th birthday.

But in the United States and the rest of the industrialized world, this is 9/11, the 16th anniversary of the terror attacks in 2001 that wrenched our nation from its moorings and sent it tumbling into space. And it would be ludicrous to view today in any other context: The horrors of the event still haunt us, its heroes still ennoble us.

For most adult Americans, 9/11 is a date that will live in infamy, just as Franklin D. Roosevelt said Dec. 7, 1941, would.

And for decades, Dec. 7 did live in the memories and fears and worldviews of the men and women who came of age when the world was at war.

Even during the 1990s, old men would call or write The Hartford Courant, my employer at the time, to complain that the newspaper hadn’t done enough to commemorate the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, one of the defining events of their lives and one of the defining events in American history.

To those making the complaints, it was as if the younger generation, my generation, didn’t understand the evil that Japan, Germany and Italy had unleashed upon the world during World War II, the evil the elders fought with such courage and determination.

When society no longer appears to be defined by the events of your past, your generation is well on the way to getting old and being forgotten and discarded. During the 1990s, the World War II generation wasn’t ready to be tossed aside. No generation is.

Still, by the 1990s, the World War II generation’s triumph over the Axis powers had faded and yellowed in the national memory album. Dec. 7, 1941, just like Oct. 29, 1929 — the date the U.S. stock market crashed, signaling the Great Depression — had become an entry in the history books for baby boomers and their children.

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It seems unlikely now, but something similar will happen with 9/11. If we are diligent and lucky, future generations will think of 9/11, if it is thought of at all, as the violence that came before peace. Or, perhaps more chilling, a new date, with its own scarlet letters and haunting numbers, will displace 9/11 and define how a future generation will look at the world.

Next year, the nation’s baby boomers in their 60s and early 70s, in one of their last hurrahs, will mark the 50th anniversary of 1968, a year of trauma and turmoil, a year unlike any other to those who lived through it. Fifty years from now, some millennials will look at 2017 the same way.

Each generation yields to the conceit and the deception that it has lived through the best and worst of times. It imagines a past, its tragedies and triumphs, that can be packed in a box and stored in society’s attic.

But William Faulkner knew that the past lay at the foundation of the present: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Then-Sen. Barack Obama made reference to those words in his 2008 “A More Perfect Union” speech: “We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist between the African-American community and the larger American community today can be traced directly to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.”

Faulkner and Obama’s words echoed anew when a car plowed into Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month, making her a 21st-century victim of the 19th-century Civil War.

As Faulkner knew and Obama understood, current events are deeply rooted in the past: a past of cries and whispers, a past of punishing silences, a past that haunts and shapes us on 9/11 from beyond the grave, if we let it.

Music might be a healant just like it was 50 years ago, in the summer of ’67 What we need now is love and a song like ‘All Around the World’

“People hand in hand

Have I lived to see the milk and honey land?

Where hate’s a dream and love forever stands

Or is this a vision in my mind?”

— Stevie Wonder, “Visions”


Some people remember 1967 as a very good year for pop music, from Aretha Franklin singing “Respect” to Frank and Nancy Sinatra singing “Something Stupid.” They remember a summer of love that gave way to a fall where the Beatles sang “All You Need is Love,” a simple declaration of interdependence and an enduring international anthem for complex and ever-changing times.

In 1967, in some important ways, things were getting better all the time. The Loving v. Virginia decision struck down bans against interracial marriage in the United States. Thurgood Marshall was named the nation’s first black Supreme Court justice, and Carl Stokes was elected the first black mayor from a major American city, Cleveland.

But 1967 was a year inflamed by strife, too; war raged in the Middle East and in Vietnam. Cities such as Detroit, Newark, New Jersey, and other places burned across America. Richard Nixon marshaled white resentment in his march toward the Republican nomination for president.

Which is to say, 1967 was a year of turmoil and triumph, just as every year is, including this one, a time when new walls of exclusion are championed and old monuments commemorating Confederate soldiers and officers come down.

From the mid-’60s through the mid-’70s, we were blessed with music that tended to heal and enlighten, inspire and challenge.

Today, when political lies threaten to trump moral truths and profits trump creativity, the music doesn’t salve society’s wounds as it once did or seemed to.

But earlier this month, I heard two veteran bluesmen perform a song the nation badly needs: “All Around the World.” The song, co-written by blues master and Grammy winner Keb’ Mo’, is an upbeat call-and-response tune. Backed by a tight band, Mo’ and his touring partner, Grammy winner Taj Mahal, ripped through the song in New York’s Central Park.

Like Stevie Wonder’s “Visions” in the 1970s, “All Around the World” imagines a world spinning on an axis of love:

There’ll be love all around the world (All around the world)/ There’ll be peace and understanding (All around the world) …

Neither I nor the song advocates a fey and feckless love that merely prompts us to forgive our tormentors, again and again. The love we need and the love the song talks about gives society a powerful emotion, strong enough to stare down evil and douse the torches lit by bigotry, ignorance and injustice in Charlottesville, Virginia, and all around the world.

Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal, who have a new CD out and are touring under the banner TajMo, performed their rousing song on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to a rapturous response. It’s the kind of song I can imagine John Legend recording with a gospel choir and a rap break by somebody like Chance the Rapper. It’s the kind of song I could see everyone from Ariana Grande to Garth Brooks to Kirk Franklin adding to their live shows. It’s the kind of song I can imagine becoming a thumping recessional tune in various houses of worship or at rallies for an America that lives up to its majestic promise for all its people.

It’s the kind of song I can imagine being recorded by a cross-section of artists, a kind of “We Are the World” for the 21st century, in the name of social equality or world peace.

Like other masters of the form, Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal play a blues that’s animated by joy. They sing and play the way Ella Fitzgerald sang her songs, the way Louis Armstrong blew his trumpet, the way Stephen Curry dribbles his basketball, with joy and love. And that’s what we’ll need to come together and make a better tomorrow.

All around the world.

Pots & pans: My parents, both born on July Fourth, didn’t live to see their American dream For my father, our nation was fundamentally immoral. My mother saw a work in progress.

Tomorrow, I’ll pause and think of my parents, both born on the Fourth of July. My father grew up in the rural South, part of a sharecropping family. My mother, the daughter of a laborer and a conjure woman, was born in Philly, just as our nation was.

Sometimes, after summer Sunday dinners with Monday’s toil hours away, they’d cruise into a familiar conversation. It would begin with scenic meanderings about what they’d do after they retired. It would end at a fork in the road, if not an impasse: a discussion of how black people should seek to live their lives in America.

My mother, a child of the Depression, gloried in every example of black people doing unprecedented things, from Jackie Robinson playing major league baseball to Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price in opera.

Although my mother didn’t live to see it, the election of Barack H. Obama as president of the United States exemplified her fondest dream: a black person climbing to unprecedented heights, buoyed by hard work, intelligence and faith.

My father, born before the beginning of World War I, saw America as a nation whose fundamental immorality was revealed in its inability to recognize black people as decent and hardworking. If he’d lived, he’d see post-Obama America and the rise of white nationalism here and throughout Europe as ample evidence that nothing had changed and nothing ever would.

My mother felt that things changed all the time. She helped change things in small ways. When she was a young woman, she stood up for herself on her government jobs. “Jeffery,” she’d say, “I was a pistol.”

Had she lived, my mother would have smiled while the black president of the United States spoke at her grandson’s 2016 Howard University graduation. She would have smiled when she learned that her grandson had the audacity to hope he could earn a living as a film critic.

Had he lived, my father would have shaken his head when the black president said in that graduation speech that to make progress folks had to be willing to compromise, even with those they knew were wrong. My father didn’t believe anything could be gained from compromising with people he knew were wrong.

Although my father would not have discouraged my son’s ambitions, Daddy would have shaken his head at a grandson who, like me, didn’t hope to work for himself.

Although my father worked on an assembly line in the 1960s, he’d owned a garage in the 1950s and a store before serving in the Navy during World War II. He’d also tried to start an import-export business. On occasion, he played and hit the street number. He was always looking for ways to free himself and his family from the dictates of workaday life in black America.

His childhood in a sharecropping family had taught him that the people who owned the land and kept the books also made sure that the workers remained in poverty.

My mother believed fervently in the richness of the American promise. While striving for success, she sought to stand on the shoulders of her ambition and commitment to excellence. She thought that setbacks dictated that she or the larger black community had to work harder or employ different strategies, set new goals.

My father believed that anyone who committed himself to competing in a game where he didn’t make the rules was bound to lose again and again.

Neither of my parents lived to retire. Their Sunday conversations from more than 50 years ago live only in my fond memories. But the explosive question of how black people should best pursue the American dream, or endure when that dream gets deferred, gets answered by each new generation in different ways, by individuals and through national movements, Crispus Attucks to JAY-Z, abolition to Black Lives Matter.

As always, the African-American journey continues in our country. We are not alone: We lock arms with everyone who knows that the nation’s greatness is rooted in its people rather than clever phrases. With each step forward, we carry the nation and its most cherished ideals to higher ground.

And the rockets’ red glare.

Pots & pans: Whites no longer have a monopoly on winning A Japanese driver finished first at the Indy 500, but some people can’t accept that

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Takuma Sato, one of my people, won the Indianapolis 500. After the race, Sato, short like me, drank deeply of the white milk, a liquid victory lap and the traditional ambrosia of Indy winners.

A native of Japan, Sato races for the Andretti family, whose auto racing patriarch, Mario, immigrated from Italy after World War II and made his last name synonymous with American speed and power.

Terry Frei found the whole scene tough to swallow: “I am very uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during the Memorial Day Weekend,” Frei wrote in a tweet.

Sato might be short like me, but he’s of Japanese descent, unlike Frei, the now-former sportswriter for The Denver Post, which fired him. To Frei’s way of thinking, Sato is from a country the United States fought during World War II (as it did the Andrettis’ Italy). Consequently, it’s hard for Frei, a veteran journalist with wide-ranging interests, to embrace Sato winning the great American race.

No matter Frei’s height and interests, his remarks made him appear small, his worldview narrow, parochial and exclusionary.

And yet, Frei’s remarks place him firmly in the tradition of those who have seen broad aspects of American society, from sports to elective politics, as a kind of invitational tournament with white people deciding who gets invited and under what circumstances.

It’s that tradition that Jack Johnson challenged and shattered when he became the first black man to win the world heavyweight boxing championship in 1908, setting off tremors in boxing and America that would not be stilled until Jess Willard beat him for the title in 1915.

More than 30 years later, Jackie Robinson continued the assault on artificial boundaries when he vaulted over Major League Baseball’s color barrier to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In 2008, Barack Obama became the first black man to win our nation’s presidency, unleashing a whirlwind that continues to uproot and overturn assumptions about race and power in America up to this very moment.

What Frei and others with his mindset can’t understand or believe is that this is (or should be) the “open era” in sports and other aspects of society, here and abroad.

Sato can win Indy. Ichiro Suzuki, another native of Japan, can dazzle Major League Baseball with his hitting, fielding and baserunning. And Americans and other foreigners can compete and win in Japanese sumo wrestling.

Ultimately, Sato’s Indy victory and Frei’s reaction to it remind me that much of America continues to need what I think of as the “Little Joey Talk.” It’s the kind of lecture you’d give a child who confuses what he wants to happen with the way things are or should be.

For some reason, I can imagine the talk being delivered in President Donald Trump’s voice, perhaps via Twitter.

The talk goes like this: Little Joey or Little Terry. This is America. Everybody should get the chance to play. If everybody plays, anybody can win. And anybody who has a problem with that is a loser.

Pots & pans: Spring is in the air and so is baseball My love of the game goes back to when I was 10 and cheered for the Phillies

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” — Rogers Hornsby, Hall of Fame baseball player


As I begin to write, a winter breeze, an emissary from a gray winter day, raps upon my windows and demands to be taken seriously. But I know better. The breeze is no more than a last gasp of a dying season. Spring is here, rounding third base and heading for home, no matter what the calendar or a groundhog in Pennsylvania says. Spring is here, just in time, and summer is coming.

Baseball.

In the weeks before the beginning of the 2017 Major League Baseball season, I’ve been reading old and delicious baseball literature, as if they were psalms: from 100-year-old poems by Franklin Adams to accounts of Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox, sometimes called “The Kid,” hitting a home run in his last major league at bat in 1960.

Baseball.

Late last month, major league pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. Last week, the exhibition season unfolded in Florida and Arizona. Over the last few days, while watching spring training games, I’ve heard the sweet sound of wooden bats hitting baseballs.

Baseball.

The spring training sounds remind me of major league baseball seasons past, triumph and disaster. The baseball sounds excite me about the regular baseball season to come. Most big-league teams have talented and promising young players, even those likely to finish well out of the playoff chase.

Further, the 2017 season will mark the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson integrating Major League Baseball. This anniversary will be among the last to include people who saw Robinson erase the color line. After all, even someone who was 10 years old in 1947 will turn 80 this year.

But each baseball season produces a new batch of 10-year-olds who fall in love with the national pastime. And each new season provides an occasion for baseball fans, no matter how old, to connect with the youthful optimism, what Stevie Wonder called a child’s heart, that beats inside of every baseball fan. Each new season provides moments of reflection, a chance to connect to our childhood selves, however bittersweet.

For example, the year I turned 10, the hometown Philadelphia Phillies led the National League by 6 1/2 games with only 12 games to go. They lost 10 games in a row and finished in a second-place tie with the Cincinnati Reds, a half game behind the St. Louis Cardinals, who then beat the Yankees in a seven-game World Series.

Sixteen years later, the Phillies rewarded me and other fans with our first World Series championship. Although elated, I decided that the 1980 victory was the perfect time for me to stop being a Phillies fan and concentrate on being a baseball fan; for 20 years, I’d seen the Phillies go from last place to World Series victory.

And baseball has seen me through too, especially when I was a kid and as lonesome as a Hank Williams’ lament. Baseball on my transistor radio was my sole companion and consolation. Baseball has helped America get through, too: from the battlefields of the Civil War to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak during the run-up to World War II in 1941 to the aftermath of 9/11, marked by then-President George W. Bush throwing out the ceremonial first pitch of the 2001 World Series at New York’s Yankee Stadium.

As poet Walt Whitman said, “Baseball is our game — the American game.”

And in each era, the definition of who we are expands, on and off the field: from Cap Anson, the Hall of Famer who sought to make Major League Baseball all white in the 1880s to today’s foreign-born players of color such as Jose Altuve, Robinson Cano and Ichiro Suzuki. They show that new sources of energy and excellence can (and should) come to America from anywhere, enriching Major League Baseball and other aspects of our society.

Like Walt Whitman, I see great things in baseball, a perennial that blooms in spring, fragrant in American history and my imagination. The wait is over.

Baseball.