Twelve years ago today.
It is different outside today. It is sunny, yes, but hot. Sultry even, with a high expected in the 90s.
Different. So different from that morning. That morning on that day.
Twelve years ago.
September 11, 2001.
That day dawned clear and cool, one of those spectacular fall mornings where the deep blue of the sky and the crispness of the air makes you glad to be alive.
And that day ended with so many in this area where I have chosen to make my home no longer alive.
Some in an instant. In a heartbeat. Vaporized as murderous fanatics drove crowded airplanes into first one, then the other of the towers of the World Trade Center.
Some in long agonizing moments of fear and pain as they waited in vain for rescue.
Some in a determined fight to keep their hijacked plane from being used as yet another weapon of terror.
But, in the end, gone. All gone.
As in years gone by, relatives will gather today. At the now-two-year-old memorial plaza in Lower Manhattan. At the Pentagon. At the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
As in years gone by, bells will be rung. Wreaths will be laid. And the names will be read.
All those names. The names of the old, and of the young. Of those desperate to live. Of those who perished anyway. Of those whose bodies were lovingly buried by their families. Of those of whom nothing but dust remained. Of all those who should not have died, not in that way, not on that beautiful fall day, now 12 years in the past.
As in years gone by, the readers will pause six times during the reading of the names. Six times for a moment of silence.
• At 8:46 a.m., the time when the first plane slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
• At 9:03 a.m., the time when a second plane slammed into the South Tower.
• At 9:37 a.m., the time when a third plane crashed into the Pentagon’s west side.
• At 9:59 a.m., the time when the South Tower imploded and fell, raining debris and ash on the city.
• At 10:03 a.m., when yet a fourth plane crashed into a field in the Pennsylvania countryside.
• And at 10:29 a.m., the time when the North Tower fell.
As in years gone by, as it has each year since 2001, the tribute of lights, depicted above and below, will shine into the skies above Ground Zero tonight.
And as in years gone by, as we have each year since 2001, we will weep.
I have been writing and posting these 9/11 essays every year since 2001.1 For nine years, I wrote in anger and despair. It was beyond my comprehension that those responsible had not been brought to justice. It wasn’t until 2011 that I could write that the man responsible for that terrible day in 2001 — Osama bin Laden — had finally been called to account for what he had set in motion.
It helps, just a little, to know that he paid the same price he exacted from his victims.
But only just a little.
Because there is so much that we have lost.
Teenagers have gone to proms and graduated and attended college and married and become parents themselves… without their parents there to see their accomplishments. Parents have grown old and grey and faced the declining health that awaits us all… without their adult children there to hold their hands.
Husbands have learned to tie the ribbons in their daughters’ hair, because their wives were not there to do it. Wives have learned to teach their sons to tie their neckties, because their husbands were among the fallen.
Brothers without sisters, sisters without brothers, lovers torn asunder.
The would have, could have, should have beens of more than 3,000 people.
And so we weep.
And we mourn for what we ourselves have lost. The innocence, the faith, the trust of that September morning.
We still wince at the sound of bagpipes here in the New York area. We shy away from listening to one more rendition of Amazing Grace. We still look up in fear at the sound of a low-flying plane. We cannot bear to look at the photographs or watch the memorial programs.
And so we weep.
But as we weep, perhaps because we weep, we keep the promise that the lives that were lost will not be forgotten.
I stood in the wreckage of lower Manhattan not long after that terrible day. And I made a promise that September all those years ago. A solemn pledge that I would remember.
And as in years gone by, it is time now to keep that pledge. It is time again to remember. To open, once more, the film cannister into which I brushed some of the dust of Ground Zero. To touch that dust with my own hands. And, once again, to stand witness. To make sure that I do not forget. That we do not forget. That no-one forgets. That all those lives will never be forgotten.
To say, one more time, this year and every year, as long as I have life and breath, in words and images, NEVER FORGET.