I’ve spent a lot of this week trying not to think about today.
Yes, I understand the significance. I am a New Yorker, born and raised. I grew up near the city, and I know the skyline without The Towers, then with The Towers, and now without them.
But television, Internet and print news becomes overwhelming, as one outlet tries to out-cover and out-remembrance the others. Sometimes, you wish for a five-minute comedy break in between reports from Ground Zero, Shanksville and the Pentagon, just to jar the system. No disrespect meant here. My dad was a volunteer firefighter in New York. I had friends in both The Towers, who were fortunate to survive that terrible day.
My almost-avoidance took the form of a bike ride this morning. The plan was to pick up fresh bagels and a paper and come home. It almost worked.
As I strapped the paper to the back of my bike, I saw people walking towards the village park between town hall and the fire/police station, where our 9/11 memorial is located. I made a split-second decision to go and just take a look at the proceedings.
My town’s 9/11 memorial is a glass and granite structure, incorporating two six-foot pieces of twisted metal from the World Trade Center’s North Tower. A reflecting pool, small flags and flower urns complete the memorial. It’s not imposing, but it is a moving and fitting tribute, for both the space and the purpose. It took years of letter-writing, application forms, fundraising, and a 2,500-mile round trip drive on the part of several village personnel, to get those two metal supports and complete the entire structure.
At 8 a.m. on a Sunday, there are a lot of other things to do besides stand around in ninety-plus degree heat and humidity. Yet people came, with small children, with lawn chairs, in red, white and blue T-shirts, and wearing the insignia of their old military units on their hats or shirts. The mayor spoke, the color guard presented the flags, the sounds of “Taps” and “Amazing Grace” produced tears, and the sharp crack of a 21-gun salute punctured the still morning. As I looked and listened, I saw heads nod in recall of the day when nothing in America was the same anymore. September 11 was about loss and grief and death and the realization that even the greatest country in the world isn’t immune when evil wants in badly enough.
I recall the weeks and months following the attacks, when people kept their American flags out, and were nice to each other and volunteered and donated and showed class. But it did not last. Why? How did we get out of our newly formed habits and stumble back into our old ones so fast?
What should we take away from this day, aside from remembering those who lost their lives that day, those who love them always and those who serve in the military, both before and since 9/11? I’d like to think we were more civilized and caring in the time immediately following the attacks. I’d like to see that attitude become a lasting legacy, and a tribute to the military personnel, first responders, airline employees and “regular Joes and Janes” whose physical presence we will not see on this earth again, but who will not be forgotten.