September 11, 2001: Remember Who We Were That Day?

Sep 11, 2008

It’s like Alan Jackson wrote. On September 11, 2001, our world really did stop turning.

One of the only things about that morning linking it to a handful of other days in U.S. history is the fact that we all remember precisely where we were, and what we were doing, when tragedy struck.

Shortly after people all over the country had dropped their kids off at school and settled in for another day’s labor, four aerial suicide attacks brought sudden, unspeakable destruction to New York City; Arlington County, Virginia; and Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

If we chose to compare that day with any day at all in our past, our minds tended to fix upon December 7, 1941, for obvious reasons. And yet, in the end, such a comparison can go only so far and no further. People who survived one of these days or the other, and those who suffered related losses, are all too aware of the uniqueness of the particular burdens they bear.

But it is probably safe to posit this: that all of us acknowledge that a stark and brutal coming of age marked both days.

In 1941 and in 2001, we were confronted with the knowledge that this remarkable republic is not, by virtue of its elevated ideals or its proven might, the bulwark of invulnerability we might once have imagined it to be.

We came away from our televisions stunned and largely speechless on that September day in 2001. The question of “why” permeated virtually every moment of waking thought. We jammed the phone lines trying to get through to our people in those afflicted regions. Some of us began the arduous task of retracing history to see whether it might lend insight into where we’d found ourselves at that moment.

But soon enough, in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and all over the nation—with emotional and psychic wounds still gaping, still fresh—Americans began almost instinctively throwing themselves into gear for the sake of three regions in unprecedented distress. We didn’t wait to get a handle on the mechanics of that terrorist scourge. The Red Cross needed blood and volunteers, and got a lot of both in short order. Various agencies organized emergency-management workers, police officers, firefighters, and medical contingents for travel to the sites of the devastation.

Too, if you will remember, we looked strangers in the eye in the wake of that aggression, as we waited to give blood, and spoke of our love of country. We laughed a weak but knowing laugh with strangers when reflecting on how shockingly petty many of our daily concerns could be. We vowed to “be there” for these strangers. People embraced, who had never thought of embracing.

There is no better day than this day to take stock of what truly counts in our lives, and what is of minimal importance. There is no better day than this day to search our hearts and remember the consciousness that led us to form bonds with strangers, with other citizens whose lives might have been very different from ours, but whose lifeblood was no less in demand for that fact. There is no better day than this day to be kind to all those we encounter, for no reason that need be named.

There is no better day than this day to remember, with deep compassion, the 9/11 dead and all who love them.

The heart does not require that we recognize our precise connection with these faraway souls; but we are human beings with dreams, with struggles, and with families.

The connection is there.

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