All week the news has saturated us with terrible images and tales of “where were you” ten years ago. For months the media has built anticipation into this upcoming anniversary. Even locally, a church in my area is welcoming a filmmaker who happened to be in NYC on September 11, 2001 producing a documentary on the life of a firefighter. When the first tower was hit, he turned his camera toward the terror in the skies and later on the ground as the firefighters he was there to film, responded to the biggest disaster and act of war in their lives. Many of them lost their lives. The posters promoting his visit, detailed the scenes of horror he witnessed as well as gave a cautionary note to parents about the authenticity of the film as bodies could be heard hitting the ground in the movie. The church was excited to be able to host this event and promoting it throughout the surrounding areas. I won’t be attending. Frankly, I was appalled.
The idea of visually living that day again was enough to make my stomach turn. Everyone has their story of what they were doing on September 11th. I can tell you, I was at work, tuned into a television in a student lounge with co-workers and a few students. I witnessed the plane hitting the second tower. I heard the fear in the broadcasters voices as they relayed news of a plane hitting The Pentagon as well as one crashing in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The uncertainty of what would happen next was immobilizing and beyond frightful. I recall spending my entire work day in that student lounge seeing images of the towers collapsing on the small television, replayed over and over again by the media. Everyone just wanted to be in the arms of their families. I remember thinking as I left work that day, my first stop would be a brief visit to see my daughter and son-in-law and give them a big hug. I wanted to hold my one year old granddaughter close and kiss her little face all over in a layer of gentle protection. I remember the irony in the blue skies and bright sunshine of the day. Yet, somehow even breathing in the air, felt menacing. There was barely any traffic on the roads and this sense of the surreal, a hint of The Twilight Zone, surrounded me. I don’t know how I got home, I think I was driving in a dream state. I had this sense of the most profound violation; like someone had broken into my home, and destroyed everything in sight and was just lying in wait for me to arrive and take me out as well. Why would I want to dredge up those feelings again? If I felt that way, living 500 miles away, how did everyone who was in NYC and DC feel on that day? What is it in our nature that makes us so inclined to revisit pain and suffering as a way to memorialize?
There is this philosophy, we must never, ever forget. For me that does not include rehashing the horror of the day. I don’t have to visit Auschwitz to imagine what life must have been like during Hitler’s reign of insanity for those of the Jewish faith. Nor, do I need to see filmstrips of Pearl Harbor being attacked to understand what war did to our country’s innocence almost 70 years ago. These heinous bits of our history are burned into the souls of every generation. It’s not important that we never forget; we won’t, nor could we. It’s that we never, ever seem to learn. Religious and political hatred is a thread that has weaved it’s way through history since the beginning of time. The solution isn’t to keep the fires of anger, terror, and fear stoked. We attract what we send out. You can’t educate or heal through images of bodies in mass graves or buildings collapsing, violent acts, and fear. The solution is never to keep the scab picked into a state of seeping sensitivity. We can, and do heal through messages of rebirth, courage, hope, service and new beginnings. We heal by lovingly rebuilding, acts of kindness, and precious memories: focusing on the imprint those who died, made on the lives of the living. The scar will always be there. That is enough of a reminder of the suffering. Let’s focus on the stories of the survivors and families and how they’ve inspired others. Let’s applaud the bravery of the children and spouses in going on and building meaningful lives, making their contributions to a better world, in honor of their deceased loved ones. Let’s be in awe, and learn from their determination to not allow terrorists to define the remainder of their lives as children of 911 or 911 widows or widowers.
My day will be spent thinking about the survivors, and their families, wishing them blessings for the rest of their lives. My day will be spent silently honoring those that lost their lives. My day will be spent praying for the politicians that are entrusted to make decisions that have an impact on history, to be guided in making choices that are conducive to the unselfish, agenda free, greater good. My day will be spent asking God to continue to shed His grace on our beautiful country. Most of all, the prayer on my lips all day long, will be that somehow, in my grandchildren's lifetime, they won't have to witness or live with the aftermath of intolerance and hatred.
Oh, beautiful for heroes proved, in liberating strife.
Who more than self, their country loved
And, mercy, more than life.
May God thy gold refine
Til all success be nobleness
And every gain divine.....
Til selfish gain, no longer stain
The banner of the free.
(excerpted from America the Beautiful- words by Katherine Lee Bates)