Surely it was twenty minutes ago when we watched in horror as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City tumbled into a cloud of dust and debris. Then again how could it have been only twenty years ago? The grief that came from our loss of innocence weighs on us to this very day. Such deep feelings never really leave us, we simply push them aside because we know that we must continue to live in spite of the hurt that nibbles at our hearts. We change and adjust, but each September 11, it feels as though someone has reopened a wound that we had believed to be healed. Horrific events are like that. They never really go away and we remember the dates on which they occurred as surely as we do birthdays and wedding anniversaries.
I wasn’t around when Pearl Harbor occurred but my mother was, and she never once forgot to speak of how horrific that December 7, was. Every single year she remembered as though a piece of her heart had been forever scarred. I am the same way with November, 22, the day that John Kennedy was assassinated. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news of his death. The feelings that I had on that dark day rise up as vividly as they did when I was just a teenager.
As we mark the twentieth anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers I find myself thinking less about the evil of the act itself, and mostly about the humanity of the thousands of people who worked in those buildings and the brave firefighters and police officers and citizens who tried to save them. I wonder at the horror of the people on those planes and the last moments that they experienced just before they hit the buildings. I remember the attack on the Pentagon and the plane that went down in a Pennsylvania field. I cry again for all of them and for their families. I realize that even those lucky enough to survive were battered forever. I know that our entire nation was shaken to its very core, and that somehow the seed of all of the rancor and division that we now feel was planted on that day.
From death and loss great goodness often bursts forth. We saw the worst and then the best of humanity in that event. For a time we stood together in defiance of those who would take our safety away from us. Our allies from across the globe comforted us and supported us, but we were hurt more deeply than we thought possible. The terror had done is job, served its purpose. Deep down inside we were afraid, even as we boasted that we would rise again. As with anything human we had different ideas about how to address the evil that had polluted our way of life. Our initial unity began to fray. We forgot about the patience that it took to clear the rubble of those towers one bucket at a time. We walked away from the teamwork that was so clearly on display in the aftermath of the tragedy. We quibbled and argued and accused each other rather than focusing on the commonalities that we all share.
On this twentieth anniversary we each remember where we were, what we were doing, how we felt. We have stories of relatives who often visited the Twin Towers for business, stayed in the Marriott Hotel. We thank God that they were not there on that day. We have friends who were late for work in one of the Towers, and we are grateful that they only arrived in time to see the first plane hitting the building. We recall the terror of a friend whose parents worked there and the long day of sitting with him until he finally learned that they were safe. We watched him drop to his knees and sob tears of relief while we cried with him. We think of how quiet the skies were when the planes that usually flew over our heads were grounded. Our visceral feelings rise up and we relive a moment that will never go away no matter how much we want it to do.
Perhaps it is time that we also resurrect the kindness that we saw on that day when nothing mattered but helping each other.. Maybe it is time that we find unity again as well. The strength of our country does not lie in one political party or another. It is in the joining of many voices into one nation. That requires us as citizens to strive for equality, justice, understanding, compassion. This is a moment when we need to remove the debris of our disagreements one bucket at a time so that we might rebuild the foundation of our democracy and erect a shining new tower to demonstrate our strength. We have to once again reach across the aisle and rebuild our nation together. That is how we will overcome evil.
There are forces who would bring us down and they are rejoicing that we have turned on one another. What would be a more perfect way of honoring those who died twenty years ago than demonstrating that the United States of America are still one nation under God with liberty and justice for all? This is how we heal. This is how we rebuild. This is how we remember.