Monday, September 12, 2011

Remembering September 12th

The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has felt like an ominous looming presence on the horizon for the past few years, an inevitable emotional hurdle that as a nation we would have to collectively catapult at some point, a marker that, despite the feeling that the attacks were just yesterday, in fact 3,652 days have passed since the towers fell and our shiny bubble sense of security was savagely, irrevocably burst.

On my way home yesterday I passed by the high school up the street from my house. The front display read "Remember 9/11", and was surrounded by small American flags that had been placed all around it. Not 15 minutes drive from the Pentagon, the possibility of anyone in my neighborhood forgetting 9/11 seems fairly slim.

9/11 is stuck in my mind in a million ways. The yellow sheets I went to sleep snuggled in on 9/10, the smell of the Yankee Sunflower candle next to my bed the same color of the friendly sheets. The phone call from my mom, waking me up the next morning (yep, late sleeper), frantically telling me to turn on the TV. Spending the day with friends, watching in horror the unfolding coverage as we waited for their kids to come home from school to try to explain the previously unimaginable.

Looking at the high school's sign, however, memories from the day after the attacks is what came to mind. September 12, 2001, for a brief, fleeting moment, Americans became a "We". E pluribus unum- out of many cries of desperation, loss, shock and pain, Americans became One nation, committed to moving forward despite the horrific assault We had endured. We may have disagreed vehemently on what 'moving forward' should look like, what direction in which We should head, nor the manner in which We would progress, but We were united in a commitment to assist one another along the way. We wept for those we never knew, shuddered in terror at the prospect that those we love could, indeed, be taken from us in an instant by threats heretofore imagined only by those employed to dream up nightmare scenarios in order to protect Us. We came together in synagogues, mosques, churches, Rotary club halls, and on the steps of Congress. The metal of the smoldering towers melded us together in ways that no bipartisan piece of legislation ever could.

Today, sitting in the comfort of my office only a few miles from those same steps where our legislators came together 2,652 days ago to sing "God Bless America" as we looked heavenward and questioned how to move past our pain, I wonder how 'we' can become that We America became on September 12, 2001. Last night members of Congress gathered again on the steps of the Capitol to pay tribute to the victims of the attacks. I wonder, though, whether the spirit of unity lasted when they went back to their offices. It feels like we are more divided then ever. Ten years ago the towers crashed, and it brought out the best in us at the worst of times. Looking out at the landscape today- the economy in tatters, the unemployment rate threatening to collapse, and the American Dream of white picket fences and 2.3 children beginning to seem as distant a memory as going through airport security with our shoes on- I wonder what calamity it would take to bring Us together again. Why must we wait for the worst to come to muster the best in ourselves? To draw together as a We, rather than point to the 'other' for the problems facing the 'me'? When slammed into rock bottom, We drew together to climb back out. Just because we are heading back down at a more insidious rate of decline, can we not see that bottom is where we are headed once more? Perhaps the threat today is not hard metal misappropriated mid-air, but hard heads intent on blaming our descent on someone rather than finding a way to break the fall.

I can't imagine ever forgetting 9/11; the shock of the day, the pain and horror of the days and weeks to follow. I hope to always remember 9/12, the day We came together.

After 10 years, life goes on. So can We. Let's do it together.

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