Each of us have memories that are forever emblazoned in our hearts because of their horror. Visceral emotions remain with us years after events that are shockingly and unexpectedly horrific. That beautiful September 11 morning of 2001 had so much promise. The sun was out and the skies were blue. I was getting ready to attend a meeting at the Houston Independent School District Administration building and watching Good Morning America as I put the finishing touches on my hair and make-up. There was a plane that appeared to be lost and then it suddenly, inexplicably slammed into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
I was stunned but I had to leave my home or I would have been late for my meeting. I listened to the radio as I drove down the Houston freeways. There was still a great deal of confusion regarding what had happened when another plane appeared and took aim at the second tower of the World Trade Center. That is when my brain snapped and I knew that this had not been an accident. My stomach lurched as I nervously tried to keep my mind on the road. I called my husband Mike to verify that what I had heard on the radio was true. He sounded anxious as he described what he had seen on the television and told me to be careful as I continued to my destination.
I arrived for the meeting and found a solemn group of colleagues sitting in stunned silence while watching a television that had been brought into the room. The lovely breakfast that should have been a treat for all of us remained untouched as we focused on the live news reports that were as confused as we were. Then came the most horrific image I have ever seen as the towers literally collapsed before our eyes. A few people let out screams and cries but most of us were too disturbed to do anything other than attempt to remember to breathe.
Our innocence was stolen on that day. A quiet fear would steadily eat away at our national confidence. We would become more cynical, more reluctant to believe in ourselves and our leaders. We became more openly divided and wary of those who did not share our philosophies. The damage of 9/11 went far deeper than we had imagined it would.
Each year we rightly remember the lives so brutally lost. We have erected a memorial so that we will never forget them. We rebuilt on that sacred ground but we have struggled to repair the national spirit that we had often taken for granted. Today we are an embattled nation as we fight a virus that also attacked us without warning. It has spread fear and doubt and death. We were no more prepared for its ravages than we were for the terrorist attack of 9/11 and our divisions with one another are more pronounced than ever. We are in a state of chaos and sorrow as the numbers of dead continue to rise. There have been single days when we lost as many as we did on 9/11 and yet somehow we have been more resigned to the toll of innocent lives. We desperately want to just go back to a time when we thought that we were secure, but we know that there is no way to time travel.
We have to face the demons that attack us whether they be terrorists or microbes. We need not panic, but we must instead mend our wounds, rekindle our relationships and work as a nation to clear the rubble and work together. We can no longer fall back on thinking of ourselves as members of rival groups but rather as Americans faced with some of the greatest challenges of our history. We will only find a way out from under all of the fear and destruction and death with truth. We can handle honesty, but we cannot bear lies even if they are meant to shelter us.
Nation building requires trust and there can be no trust when we are uncertain of the facts. We need to know the extent of our problems before we may properly plan how to deal with them. Teamwork is imperative. Selfish motivations are toxic. This is not a game or a race. It is a battle for the very soul of who we are as people. If the ideals of our Founding Fathers are ever to be achieved we must include all voices, all parties. We have to honor veterans and those who have concerns about our military decisions, Black lives and police officers attempting to be just and ethical, scientists and medical experts who understand what we need, Americans who can trace their ancestry back to the pilgrims and immigrants from other lands, Christians and those of many other faiths. It is only in working together that we will ever rise again from the ashes of 9/11.
If we want to truly remember the souls who died on 9/11 and those who have died from Covid 19 as well we do not need fear or panic. Instead we must walk together, ignore those who would turn us against one another and begin a process of demanding honesty and compassion from those would lead us. It is time to heal.