“The stern hand of fate has scourged us to an elevation where we can see the great everlasting things that matter for a nation; the great peaks of honour we had forgotten–duty and patriotism, clad in glittering white; the great pinnacle of sacrifice pointing like a rugged finger to heaven.” –David Lloyd George
Ten years passed. Ten years of living in a new world. Ten years of mourning and fear. Ten years of questions and anger. Ten years of life and death.
I was 16, up early for school. I showered first, early in the morning, and often went back to sleep or caught up on homework. In a dark, quiet house, I watched the news more for the running clock in the bottom corner than for any headlines. I was putting on socks. All stories stopped short and footage rolled from New York, a plane collided with a building. It was shocking and confusing, reports muddled and brief. Could an accident this ugly really happen? As reporters relayed what they knew, questions arose. As a serious concern descended on the Bay Area newsroom, I became more glued to the coverage. As reporters shared what little was known, a second plane took the nation by surprise, live. I kept getting ready for school and remember telling my mom as she readied my little brothers in the bathroom. I was brushed off, clearly mistaken. I left for school and found my zero period Chemistry classroom flooded with radio coverage. We listened as buildings collapsed. I remember the principal making an announcement. I remember coming home from school, canceling my babysitting appointment that night and the man not understanding why I wanted to be home with my family.
“What broke in a man when he could bring himself to kill another?” –Alan Paton
I remember sitting in the living room that evening, watching television coverage. The news continued all day, anchors tired and windows growing dark. Images of the buildings, of the collapse, of people running and jumping and crying streamed. It continued for hours, days. More death, more destruction, more hatred. It was all so senseless, so unnecessary. It was brutal and cruel, targeting civilians and innocents going about life and work. It was unbelievable.
Our country is not the only thing to which we owe our allegiance. It is also owed to justice and to humanity. Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong.” –James Bryce
Then, among the carnage, something amazing began. People came together. People loved and helped however possible. People gave and gave and supported. People were human. In the face of blind hatred, optimistic courage poured forth. Much like the Whos, America was about more than business and skyscrapers. Taking away our pretty things, taking away our family and friends, would not destroy us. We became stronger than the violence that sought to rend us apart. There was a shining moment when all that was right with our country, all that we idealize and cling to, shone. We were the American dream: rich, strong, generous and brave. We were the promise for a tomorrow, no matter how dark the day.
(Frodo) “I wish none of this had happened.”
(Gandalf) “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.” —Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring
Life is not the same today. The world is different than it was ten years and one day ago. I resent that my safety was stolen, my security erased–the world is a scary place. I resent that I can’t take liquids on a plane, that I can’t meet my parents at their gate as they arrive. I resent that every fly over for the football games down the street stops my heart and makes my stomach lurch. I resent that concentrate, small hatred has ruined so much for so many. Today should be unremarkable. It should be just another Sunday, wedged between my aunt’s anniversary and a close friend’s birthday. It was not supposed to be this way.
“I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine.” –Kurt Vonnegut
And, most years, the day passes as routine. The date stands out and a slight anxiety surrounds it, but it blends rather seamlessly with the rest of the year. What I lost was ineffable, theoretic. There are so many others who lost concrete, tangible pieces of their life. I was lucky. But this year, with the tenth anniversary, I am much more aware of the day. I am astonished that ten years have passed, that sixteen year-old me lived in such a different world. As I watch the memorials and coverage, I have been unexpectedly moved. Last night I watched as four firefighters recounted the woman they saved from the tower, and how she stopped to rest as the building crumbled. Even though they had helped carry her down, she stopped at the perfect spot, cocooning them in the stairwell and protecting them. The tears welled in my eyes as they reunited, the four tough men stooping to hug the lady. Tonight I watched the real-time footage documented with the fire department. As they entered tower one, filling the lobby, my body tensed and I had to keep myself from shouting, “get out!” at the television. As off-duty men arrived at the station and suited up, racing into the destruction, the tears came. All of the fear and devastation came back. The bravery and unimaginable humanity overcame me as they did then. It was all raw and real, just as confusing and painful as the day it happened.
Ten years has been a long time. I am a different person and the world has changed. But it also feels like yesterday, like the dust has not yet settled. In some ways, it hasn’t. But today, I know that I love this country. I love the people who love it. I am humbled to live under the same flag that flew over those men and women who rushed to their deaths to spare others from theirs. Today was a very different day.
“The real differences around the world today are not between Jews and Arabs, Protestants and Catholics, Muslims, Croats and Serbs. The real differences are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it, between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past, between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists.” –Bill Clinton, 1997