As those who know me would attest, it’s been more than a few years since this photo of my wife, Kathy, and myself was taken with the Twin Towers in the background. I’m sitting here sipping a glass of wine on this eve of the 9th Anniversary reflecting once more on my thoughts of that unforgetable day. We all remember what an absolutely beautiful late summer morning it was. Brilliant sunshine in a cloudless blue sky. I remember vividly driving on Route 422 toward King of Prussia, WIP Sports Radio talking about another Allen Iverson controversy with the Sixers, and me convinced I was going to be late for a very, very important teaching assignment. My exact thoughts were “What could be worse than my being late for this class I had prepped for religiously for the last three months?” Traffic finally cooperated and I made it without a minute to spare. When the class ended shortly after 9:00 A.M. a group of us passing thru the lobby were informed by the receptionist that “it looks like a plane has hit the World Trade Center”. We gathered in front of her little TV and were shocked as we witnessed the second plane slash thru the other tower and realized at once that we were under attack. On the ride home, as the Pentagon was hit, the towers collapsed, and the radio reported on the events that would change all of us forever, I thought back on my question from two hours earlier, “what could be worse than being late for this meeting?” I had my answer and have never forgotten as a result to put things in their proper priority.
In the aftermath of the tragedy I have other memories. I vividly remember the mood of the country in the weeks following. Their was a tremendous sense of unity and committment to our country and to each other. We became a nation of kinder, gentler drivers. We let other cars in, we found new patience in traffic. We were brothers and sisters united against those who had committed this atrocity.
The following day, September 12, 2001, I read an article from the Miami Herald, one man’s emotions put into the words that spoke for each and every one of us. You may have read this piece by Leonard Pitts at the same time I did, but for those of you who never saw it, here it is. To me, nothing captured our feelings at that time as well as the words he found to express our outrage.
We’ll go forward from this moment
|By Leonard Pitts
||September 12, 2001
It’s my job to have something to say.
They pay me to provide words that help make sense of that which troubles the American soul. But in this moment of airless shock when hot tears sting disbelieving eyes, the only thing I can find to say, the only words that seem to fit, must be addressed to the unknown author of this suffering.
You monster. You beast. You unspeakable bastard.
What lesson did you hope to teach us by your coward’s attack on our World Trade Center, our Pentagon, us? What was it you hoped we would learn? Whatever it was, please know that you failed.
Did you want us to respect your cause? You just damned your cause.
Did you want to make us fear? You just steeled our resolve.
Did you want to tear us apart? You just brought us together.
Let me tell you about my people. We are a vast and quarrelsome family, a family rent by racial, social, political and class division, but a family nonetheless. We’re frivolous, yes, capable of expending tremendous emotional energy on pop cultural minutiae — a singer’s revealing dress, a ball team’s misfortune, a cartoon mouse. We’re wealthy, too, spoiled by the ready availability of trinkets and material goods, and maybe because of that, we walk through life with a certain sense of blithe entitlement. We are fundamentally decent, though — peace-loving and compassionate. We struggle to know the right thing and to do it. And we are, the overwhelming majority of us, people of faith, believers in a just and loving God.
Some people — you, perhaps — think that any or all of this makes us weak. You’re mistaken. We are not weak. Indeed, we are strong in ways that cannot be measured by arsenals.
Yes, we’re in pain now. We are in mourning and we are in shock. We’re still grappling with the unreality of the awful thing you did, still working to make ourselves understand that this isn’t a special effect from some Hollywood blockbuster, isn’t the plot development from a Tom Clancy novel. Both in terms of the awful scope of their ambition and the probable final death toll, your attacks are likely to go down as the worst acts of terrorism in the history of the United States and, probably, the history of the world. You’ve bloodied us as we have never been bloodied before.
But there’s a gulf of difference between making us bloody and making us fall. This is the lesson Japan was taught to its bitter sorrow the last time anyone hit us this hard, the last time anyone brought us such abrupt and monumental pain. When roused, we are righteous in our outrage, terrible in our force. When provoked by this level of barbarism, we will bear any suffering, pay any cost, go to any length, in the pursuit of justice.
I tell you this without fear of contradiction. I know my people, as you, I think, do not. What I know reassures me. It also causes me to tremble with dread of the future.
In the days to come, there will be recrimination and accusation, fingers pointing to determine whose failure allowed this to happen and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. There will be heightened security, misguided talk of revoking basic freedoms. We’ll go forward from this moment sobered, chastened, sad. But determined, too. Unimaginably determined.
THE STEEL IN US
You see, the steel in us is not always readily apparent. That aspect of our character is seldom understood by people who don’t know us well. On this day, the family’s bickering is put on hold.
As Americans we will weep, as Americans we will mourn, and as Americans, we will rise in defense of all that we cherish.
So I ask again: What was it you hoped to teach us? It occurs to me that maybe you just wanted us to know the depths of your hatred. If that’s the case, consider the message received. And take this message in exchange: You don’t know my people. You don’t know what we’re capable of. You don’t know what you just started.
But you’re about to learn.
(c) 2001 The Miami Herald and wire service sources. Reprinted with permission.
Last year, in the first weeks of my blog, I took time on this day to write some words on the Windows on the World Restaurant which occupied the top floors of the North Tower. One hundred and sixty four people consisting of staff and guests perished in the conflagration. Nothing that I have written on food or wine, dining or drinking, has been read by more readers than that post from last year. I take that as a good sign. It means, I think, that we still care, we haven’t forgotten, and if we set aside time to reflect on what happened and what’s really important in our lives we will assure that we will never forget those who lost their lives nine years ago.