As we stop to reflect on the anniversary of the attacks on America, it is obvious that the world is as scary a place today as it was on that day 11 years ago when life changed forever. Everything these days is measured by 9/11. Events happened pre- or post-9/11. We are certainly not as innocent as we were before that day. That innocence, that naiveté, went up with the smoke that rose as the buildings were brought down by so much hatred and intolerance. While we are not the same people that we were back then, changed by the images of death that haunt us still, changed by the voices of the unfortunate souls whose only mistake on that day was being American, we have, I believe, lost some memory of the horror. Some would say that’s a positive thing, a necessary means to going on with our lives; others would say that’s a negative thing, a step that ensures a repeat of the horror as we let our collective guards down.
That day still lives with me. Not a day goes by that I don’t think, in some way, of the souls that were lost that day, or of the insanity that ended so many lives. Not a day goes by that I don’t fear something awful is about to happen to us, to Americans, yes, but more importantly to mankind. How many deaths, in how many nations, under the guise of how much nonsense, must happen before we burn ourselves out? Before we lose the essence of our humanity, and once and for all become something less than human. No God justifies this kind of hatred. My God, your God, is weeping these days, as he opens his arms to more casualties of our intolerance. How did we get here? And is there any going back?
America watched in horror that bleak Tuesday as it was cruelly and cowardly attacked by an enemy who lurks in the shadows. Over the days that followed I struggled with the reality of what had just happened to our country. I watched or listened to the news greedily, trying to understand. I continued to work, I kept in touch with my colleagues in New York, and I did what I imagine many people did those first days after the unspeakable tragedy: I cried and I prayed.
What I noticed over those first few days was how deeply everyone was affected by the attack on our nation. People were numb and nobody wanted to be alone. I noticed that people were going slower in the days that followed. No one seemed to be in such a rush anymore. Perhaps we were all looking around a little harder and starting to understand how precious life really is. Or perhaps we simply forgot how to function normally after witnessing the worst kind of evil on our own soil.
I noticed, too, that people became more willing to touch, to weep, and to get close to their fellow human beings. Personal space just didn’t seem important. I watched as perfect strangers became perfect friends.
It doesn’t matter who you are in America. Every soul in this country was touched by this unspeakable tragedy. Whether or not we were directly affected, we were all touched. We had for so long been insulated from this type of evil. We have an ocean on either side of us that had generally protected us from this type of terror. These unspeakable acts happen in other places. Now it’s been brought to our shores. It’s come into our home. How can we ever feel safe again?
Ground Zero, New York became a war zone. The skyline was devastated almost beyond recognition. There was a palpable absence where the mighty Twin Towers once stood and a grief-laden silence hung in the air and traveled through the ether to touch every corner of our world.
There are reasons to be incensed at our government’s actions in dealing with rogue regimes. But none of that matters right now. Our government has never been perfect. But the one thing those cowardly terrorists didn’t count on was the fact that while we’ve long felt free and easy about the world in which we live, and while we may have become a bit too complacent, when you attack Americans we fight like cornered animals. What they don’t understand is that we don’t live in America, America lives in us. The American Spirit and American Resolve are mighty and powerful, and when you incur our wrath the fabric of our society is not torn, but rather made stronger.
The pulse of the country was weakened that horrible day. It became faint even as we held our collective breath in anticipation of more violence. But it remained detectable and rebounded stronger than ever. The heart of America makes it so.
Let us not forget.