Sunday, September 11, 2011

No Wallowing in 9/11

When the second tower was hit, a loved one called and said, “Turn on the TV.” Still holding the phone, I did and said without thinking, “This is the worst day of my life.”

It was only much later that I understood that reflexive reaction. Over more than seven decades, there had been other times of being jolted out of the smooth hum of daily life into awareness that the ground under our feet was not as solid as it seemed.

Pearl Harbor. The Cuban Missile Crisis. The weekend JFK was killed... But this was different. All that had happened Out There. With news of the Pentagon attack and the downed plane in Pennsylvania as well as the Twin Towers, we were being hit in the national nervous system, like a sudden punch to the stomach without warning.

On this anniversary weekend, we are flooded with images and words to try to make sense of that day. The two presidents of the decade stand side by side at Ground Zero to bear witness and offer prayers.

At the crash site of Flight 93, another eulogizes the victims. “There has always been a special place in the common memory,” Bill Clinton says, “for people who deliberately, knowingly, certainly lay down their lives for other people to live.”

The rest of us mourn silently for what we lost.

The terrorists that day took away not only all those innocent lives but a sense of feeling safe that will never fully return to those who survive. We now live in a world where distrust runs deep, not only at air terminals but in our political life at all levels.

Osama bin Laden is gone, but his legacy lingers.

"All we have to do," he bragged after 9/11, "is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note..."

Perhaps the best way to commemorate that day is to admit to ourselves how America has changed since then but refuse to wallow in self-pity for our losses.

It happened. We survived. We can overcome what it did to us, but it will take much more determination and strength of national character than an anniversary day can encompass.

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