Friday, September 11, 2009

Episode 75: Remembering That Day

At least once in a lifetime, a life changing, earth shattering event occurs that impacts us so greatly, every detail of the day is forever burned into our memory. For all Americans, 9/11 is that day. We all remember where we were that day. I was a senior in high school. Beautiful picturesque day. I was drum major of our marching band, running band practice when announcement informed us the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Instant silence. Then sobs. Several of my classmates had friends and relatives who worked and lived near there. We continued to the next period when we learned the second tower was hit. By this time, every TV and radio in school was on, and we witnessed live the collapse of a perhaps our most conspicuous symbols of American power. One of my teachers had a daughter who worked for the Pentagon. I remember him not even being able to complete one sentence of the lesson, his thoughts drifted to the safety of his daughter. We came to find out the plane that hit the pentagon was exactly where her office was, and because she had to retrieve a document from another room, she was out of her office at the time.

As I sit here, watching a real-time re-broadcast of the attacks, I remember so clearly all the emotions of the day. The chaos, confusion, the unanswered questions. I remember three days before the attacks, marching in the Labor Day parade in New York City. Manhattan was such a different place. It was around the time of an election, and I happened to be next to a politician’s float. Fake handshakes, insincere smiles, carefree blissful ignorance, as we were living in the height of our prosperity. Coming home from the parade, the sun was behind the World Trade Center casting a silhouette of the New York skyline that looked like it was taken from a postcard.

I remember the smoke cloud. Driving westbound on the Long Island expressway, when you get close to exit 33, a large mushroom cloud appears on the horizon. My heart shrank to the bottom of my stomach every time I saw it. It remained in the skies for many, many months. I remember ground zero. I didn’t have the courage to see it until a couple of years after the attack. Though the area was significantly cleaner, there was still a huge crater in the ground. My grandfather was on the construction crew that built the World Trade Center. He told me the basement was seven stories deep. Perhaps the impact made it a bit deeper.

What I remember the most about that day however, was the true spirit of America. The charities, the outpouring of support from every citizen, the scores of Long Island volunteer firemen, policemen, ambulance, and other emergency personnel heading to Manhattan to move sheet metal, find bodies and provide blankets, food and drink. I remember that for a short time, there was no democrat, no republican, independent, libertarian, green party, black, white, red, brown, yellow, purple – there was only The United States of America. We were one nation. As we head into the difficult debates ahead, let us put aside the conspiracies, the petty bickering, and the misinformation. Political dissention is the fabric of our great democracy. But we can do it in a way that brings us together, not divides us, that includes people into the debate, not dismisses points of view we don’t agree with, that values pragmatism over ideology. Let us be the America from that day, that banded together to tackle difficult issues. In doing so, we can turn the tragedy of that day into an unbreakable strength.

My thoughts and prayers, go out to all those affected directly or indirectly by that day.
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