When we came together
“Remember the hours after September 11th when we came together as one to answer the attack against our homeland. We drew strength when our firefighters ran upstairs and risked their lives so that others might live; when rescuers rushed into smoke and fire at the Pentagon; when the men and women of Flight 93 sacrificed themselves to save our nation’s Capitol; when flags were hanging from front porches all across America, and strangers became friends. It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us.” — John Kerry
On September 11, 2001, we were living in northern California. My clock radio came on as usual at 6:00 a.m., and the first words I heard were “an airplane has crashed into the World Trade Center.” I immediately began praying for the airline pilots I knew, but even in my still-sleepy brain fog, I knew that this was no typical accident.
Jeff came in a few minutes later (he always rose an hour earlier than I did) and told me there had been two plane crashes, one into each tower. “It’s terrorists,” I said.
“It surely sounds like it,” he agreed. We speculated briefly as to what this might mean, and how his day would unfold if some sort of attack were in progress. “I might not be home at the usual time tonight,” he predicted.
A few minutes later I was in the bathroom helping Matt clean his orthodontic retainers when Drew came to tell me Eric had called. “He said to tell you he’s safe, and to advise you not to go into the city today, especially not the Golden Gate Bridge. He said they might be going after all the big targets.”
A short time later Jeff called to confirm what we had suspected; he would not be home at the usual time that night, and in fact, he didn’t know when he would be home. From past military exercises, I knew I might not be told where he was or when to expect him to come back home.
A short while later, Gloria called. “I just wanted to hear your voice,” she said.
While the details may differ, I suppose similar communications were taking place all over America. People calling to let others know they were safe, to worry about what might come next, and to seek reassurance by sharing the shock with someone we trusted.
Many people of my age or older almost invariably felt a haunting memory of November 22, 1963, the only other date when we remembered anything as shocking and frightening. For our parents’ generation, many remembered December 7, 1941. But absolutely none of us could remember anything on this scale. It’s not an overstatement to say that we were all changed in some way by that day, some of us more than others.
If John Kerry was right about the day bringing out the best in us, I’d like to think that “best” is still there, though dormant; that we could come together as one if anything so catastrophic should ever happen again. But why does it take catastrophe to bring out the best in us?
Today is a grim anniversary, but rather than re-living the horror and sadness, perhaps we can try to reenact the compassion and urgency we felt to reach out to others and let them know that we cared. Is it possible to remember the lessons of that day’s trauma and heartbreak even in the relative normalcy that we may (or may not) experience today?
Today I wish you a gloriously typical day in which nothing unexpected happens. But even if that wish comes true, I hope you will reach out to a loved one or neighbor with the understanding that was so forcefully thrust upon us thirteen years ago: life is short, unpredictable and sometimes very difficult. Let’s be there for each other.
One year ago today: