I probably can’t remember where I was last Tuesday at 8:45 am, but I remember exactly where I was on September 11, 2001 when I heard the news. I remember how I felt. I remember the images. I remember who I talked with and how my community processed it. Time stopped that moment and then everything was slow motion for weeks on end.
Twenty years later, on 9/11/21, my children had the honor of singing at a local commemorative ceremony. To be honest, I probably would not have attended otherwise. One of the speakers was a fireman that went to Ground Zero for 17 days to provide medical care for the first responders that were digging people and remains from the wreckage and chaos. His stories were powerful. I was thankful that my children were hearing his stories firsthand.
When I was a child, I remember studying December 7, 1941. I remember that the adults in my life were emotional about the attack on America when bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. But to me, it was flat: dates in print on a page. As I look around and realize that this new generation of teenagers and young adults were still in God’s pocket on 9/11, I realize that perhaps they feel the same way I did about Pearl Harbor. Stories and names, videos even, can’t make it as real as living through it. In the future, will 9/11 merely be included in a list of dates schoolchildren need to memorize for a test? Will the horrific details and the stories of heroes be merely a paragraph in a history book? We say we will never forget, but will we? No one talks much about Pearl Harbor these Decembers.
In the aftermath of 9/11, flags flew in front of houses on every street and from car windows at every intersection. An American solidarity and unity was born on 9/12/01 that probably rivaled that born as Americans heard radio reports of a peaceful Hawaiian morning broken. There was no Us and Them. Whether or not we agreed on politics or issues, it was all set aside. We were Americans and we had been attacked. We stood together.
That unity and solidarity has died a slow and painful death over the last 20 years. Have we already forgotten? Are our issues and sides so important to us that we disrespect each other and breed hatred? As I sat in the windy sunshine listening to this fireman tell of his experience, I became angry at my country. The America of Fall 2001 doesn’t exist anymore, on many fronts. I’m angry at us for letting it die. I’m angry at us for letting our anger drive our conversations; we’ve forgotten how to listen to the other side.
What does it take? What does it take to get that back? Do we have to get attacked again? What 2×4 in the forehead will knock sense back into us? What tragedy do we have to withstand to rebuild what makes us great: that we are the United States of America. When will be united again?
My heart is grieved today as I remember the loss of life on 9/11, but it also grieves the loss of what America became on 9/12.