September 11th isn’t ever going to be a completely normal date for a lot people who were alive in 2001. That oh shit moment when you found out about a second plane going into the towers. One is an accident, surely. But two? That’s the moment when you knew.

I wonder how I should talk to my kid about mass casualty events, how to explain that sometimes a thing happens that means a load of full lives, people with families and jobs and schools and pets and hobbies and struggles and dreams just aren’t there any more.

This year earthquakes in Turkey/Syria and Morocco have taken tens of thousands of lives. Unspeakably tragic, but somehow treated as business-as-usual by the media. Nearly a quarter of a million dead in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, but somehow the ongoing cultural resonance isn’t there.

By contrast, a few thousand casualties during the September 11th attacks barely tips the needle against that morbid scale of human tragedy. Ten times that number of people were killed in traffic incidents in the US in 2001. But the September 11th attacks were also an intentional act by a handful of people, one that played out over a few hours on the news and (for the first time?) the internet. The shared experience somehow made that day, that date a fundamental touchstone for the current western mindset. More than two decades later the phrase “since 9/11” remains an ongoing justification, a tipping point in the psyche of a whole nation.

What would the world be like if Hiroshima and Nagasaki had happened during the era of the 24-hour news cycle? (We still don’t know how many lives were lost.)

There’s no real point to my writing here, it was just on my mind. I increasingly notice the huge disconnect in the way we treat loss of life from natural disasters versus the ones that humanity inflicts on itself, as if the latter were more important, and yet the reality of those individual deaths on the community of people around them is very much the same. Someone you loved isn’t there any more. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. The underlying narrative doesn’t affect the loss.