One blink and 20 years have passed. Yet, the horrors of 9-11 seem as fresh as the day they happened. The footage I have seen every year brings it all back like it was yesterday. I am glued to the TV, just as I was then, because I have a need to watch it again. Not as some form of torture to myself, but as a remembrance of the history of it all. It was a before and after moment in time. One, that we study now, like so many of those kinds of moments. We look back to remember what it was like before our innocence was stolen.
The footage always starts on a beautiful, clear, sunny day. People on the streets going about their normal business, unaware that the world is going to change before their very eyes in just a few moments. Then the first event, the first plane, goes into the tower. Watching the confusion, my heart breaks for the people on the streets and in the buildings because they do not know yet of all the horror that will unfold one event at a time. They only see fire and assume the plane accidentally hit the tower. They are horrified as it burns, but they stand, eyes to the top of the building, not yet in a panic. Alarmed, yes, but more curious than afraid. When the second plane hits, you can see the terror replace curiosity. Knowing this was intentional changes the demeanor of everyone. Still, some stand and watch both towers burn, not fully comprehending what is happening.
When the first tower falls, those who thought they were watching from a safe distance, realize there is no safe distance. The running and panic begins in earnest. Chaos ensues. The terror has been implanted and the crazed eyes of those in the midst of it all show it. Those of us at home, watching on that day, are aware there may not even be a safe city because by this time, we know there were more than two planes. We know we are all in danger. Each year, I watch and relive the day’s events. Each year I listen to the names called out at memorial services around the country. I am amazed at the number of nationalities represented in those names. Every name, it seems, comes from a different ethnic background yet, they are all Americans. There is no question of that as the names are read. All kinds of people, living in the melting pot where everyone belongs.
On September 12th, we all awoke to a new world. The sun came up. The Earth kept turning. We had to figure out how to move forward. We did so by reaching for the hands of our neighbors. By hugging our kids, a little tighter. By showing compassion and sympathy. We rose to the occasion, to meet and overcome the terror of the previous day. We were in uncharted waters, but we were all in them together.
The stories started to come out. Strangers helping strangers. Kindness in the midst of horrors. All kinds of choices being made to help others. All kinds of sacrifices, some of them the ultimate sacrifice, to save another life. There are too many to list and each year, it seems the television specials have found another group of amazing stories from that day to tell.
In the wake of the tragedy, overwhelmingly the response was to help. Canada took in hundreds and gave them safe harbor for days. First responders from all over the U.S. went to ground zero. People lined the streets with signs to thank them. We didn’t point fingers or place blame (not at first anyway) because we knew this kind of evil was inconceivable. We knew we had to come together instead of letting it drive us apart. On September 12th we instinctively knew unity was the way to combat the terror. Unprecedented events called for an unprecedented response.
Today, 20 years later, I don’t recognize our country. The United States are not united any longer. We are deeply divided. I wonder sometimes if the terrorists planned it this way. They seem to be a patient lot, with plans that take years to accomplish, not moments. I wonder if they knew the outcome all along would be that the unity would fade. When they planted the seeds of fear, they knew it would take time but that the seeds would take root. The terror would spread and that eventually we would be afraid of each other.
It appears to me on September 12th, all those years ago, we were still innocent in many ways. We did not, could not, see that our psyche had been altered. The corporate trauma we experienced changed our views of everything. It eroded our trust. Our trust of the government, of each other, of what freedom even looks like. Just like a woman who has been raped, we have learned to trust no one. We were violated and the result is to deflect and project our fears and lack of trust onto others. To keep our fears hidden under our loud voices of blame. To isolate ourselves from everyone different from ourselves. We didn’t know on that day there would be more unprecedented times to come, where the whole world would come together. But that, once again, we would disintegrate from unity into divisiveness as our fear grew even deeper roots.
On September 12th, 2001, we used our unity to find our way out of darkness. Can we do that again? Can we remember the lives lost and strive to honor them with our love of each other instead of our hate? Let’s try. Can we? Please, let’s lay down our fear and distrust. Let’s put hate away. Let’s remember. Are we worthy of the sacrifices made on September 11th so we could all get to September the 12th? I want to be. How about you?