Janus day in Iowa

Last Saturday was a Janus day. 

Janus was the Roman god who had two faces, one looking left and one looking right. He could therefore look simultaneously into the past and into the future, or both backward and forward at the same time.

Sept. 11 was the 20th anniversary of the Al Qaeda suicide airliner attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC – the 9/11 attacks. President Joe Biden took part in solemn observances at both locations and at Shanksville, PA, where passengers brought down the fourth suicide plane on that day. Former Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama also participated in some of the memorial events.

It was also the date of the Cy-Hawk Trophy football game in Ames, which drew tens of thousands of excited fans to Jack Trice stadium and millions more who tuned in to ESPN’s Gameday pregame show in Ames and then glued themselves to the game on national TV a few hours later. Both Iowa State and Iowa were ranked in the Top 10 on the AP football poll.

Kathy and I sat in our living room and watched TV coverage of both the memorial observances and the Cy-Hawk game. We also took in our young grandkids’ soccer games at Panora and Adel mid-morning. 

The conjunction of the day’s events was other-worldly for me. 

Maybe you experienced a similar sensation. 

To relive the deaths of nearly 3,000 innocent terrorist victims and watch Iowa’s biggest-ever intrastate college sports matchup on the same day seemed unreal. 

There was a half-formed sense of guilt for concentrating on the much-hyped football game, which of course I did as a long-time Hawk fan, on a day that deserved reflection about the 9/11 attacks. I watched the memorial events initially, but at game time my attention turned to the stadium instead. 

Was that wrong? Maybe. I invented a rationale to get myself off the hook, telling myself that the terrorists had been unable to destroy America’s way of life that certainly includes college sports. The Cy-Hawk game proved that Al-Qaeda’s attack, in that sense, had failed.

But the back-to-back thing still nags me, and will probably do so for awhile. Maybe it’s because the victims of the attacks, and the heroic first responders who died trying to save them, can no longer root for their favorite team. 

It’s thought-provoking to have a terrible anniversary and a major-major sports event fall on the same day.

Some words have opposite meanings. “Sanguine” is one such word; it means both bloodthirsty and optimistic. “Cleave” is another; it means both to cut apart and to cling together. “Sanction” means both to punish and to privilege. Such examples are even called Janus words.

9/11, 2021, was a day with two opposite meanings---definitely a Janus day.

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