Over the past few weeks I have prepared for this day by planning a memorial service. It made it seem like just another day, just another event. But I didn’t realize it was becoming that way in my mind until yesterday morning. I was watching the news-kinda-and I was getting ready to go to a book sale with the Manpanion. Talk of 9/11 and bomb threats in New York and D.C. came across the screen. But I didn’t stop to watch until an interview with a first responder came on. She sat there and described what happened that day. And then she cried and apologized. She apologized. She said she wished she could have done more. And that she was sorry. The CNN reporter told her to never say that again and thanked her for her service.
I cried for a minute and then went back to getting ready. Breakfast, book sale, lunch, meeting, etc. Life went on.
And then it stopped again. We were riding in the car listening to Marketplace on NPR. Again, I wasn’t really listening. I was going through a checklist in my head. “I’ll be so glad when all the 9/11 interviews and memorial shows are over.” The reporter was talking about a statement his friend made earlier in the week. “But I don’t feel that way”, the reporter said. “I think the memory of the day faded too soon. Remember what it was like to walk down the street, or go to the grocery store, or go out to eat in the weeks after the attacks? The ‘so-glad-to-see-you-glad-you’re-here’ COMMUNITY that existed. It’s gone. We went back to ‘regular’ life.” He’s right. We have.
While it’s impossible to forget the day, the events, or the images, we have forgotten what it felt like. The emotion of it all. The need to be with our fellow man, our fellow Americans. As a kid, you don’t realize that you are feeling all the same things as your parents, just on a smaller scale. The fear of the unknown, the tremendous and overwhelming feeling of patriotism, and-again, even as a kid-the knowledge that life as we knew it was over.
Right after the Newsum opened in D.C., I went to visit a friend and we found our way to the city’s newest attraction. As a news junkie and a lover of all things historical, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff”. And then I saw the 9/11 exhibit. A piece of the World Trade Center, pictures and newspapers every where. And a room with a screen. The room can probably hold 50 people, but there had to be almost 100 of us crammed in; standing, sitting, crouching, and hanging out the door frame. A black screen turned into a photo of the towers on a very clear, blue skied morning. Only it wasn’t a photograph. Silence had come over the room. And then as we watched the first plane hit the first tower, the air was sucked out of the room and someone murmured “Oh, God.” Everyone gasped and the tears came. All of the sudden I realized that I had my hand on the shoulder of the woman in front of me and the guy next to me was holding my arm. Clips and images came and went and then it was over. And as we all walked out, I realized that it wasn’t just Americans walking out and it hadn’t just been Americans who were affected by the events that day. 115 countries lost citizens that day. It became a world-wide tragedy.
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
As Lady Liberty stands in the New York harbor with her light shining boldly and bravely, a beautiful symbol of the hope and freedom that America stands for, it’s easy to see and even easier to forget, that millions see the United States of America as more than just another country. Because while blood was shed here on our shores while our forefathers were fighting for the freedoms that we enjoy today, it happened so long ago that-with the exception of Pearl Harbour-until that fateful day ten years ago, we had forgotten or didn’t know what it felt like to be attacked on our own soil. While millions suffer at the hands of terrorism everyday, we had not. And that held powerful meaning.
But we swore to go after those who threatened our way of life. And we did. And while terrorism is alive all over the world, we didn’t lie down and take it. We didn’t back down. In the last ten years we have gotten married, had children, held graduations, started new jobs, traveled, elected new leaders, etc. We have lived the American Dream in whatever way that means to us. Freedom still rings. The voice of the people is still the backbone of America. The American spirit is still alive and well.
But we have to remember. Yes, we will never forget. But we have to remember what it felt like. The patriotism, the compassion for our fellow man, the kindness, the pay-it-forward attitude, the love for country, life and each other. We have to remember those things first and foremost. Or else they win.
America is a passionate idea or it is nothing. America is a human brotherhood or it is chaos.
~Max Lerner, Actions and Passions, 1949
“Now, we have inscribed a new memory alongside those others. It’s a memory of tragedy and shock, of loss and mourning. But not only of loss and mourning. It’s also a memory of bravery and self-sacrifice, and the love that lays down its life for a friend–even a friend whose name it never knew. “
– President George W. Bush, December 11, 2001