15 years later…
To one out of every four human beings on the face of the planet, that day is only the date of an event from history.
More than 25 percent of the world’s people are under 15 years of age.
They weren’t even born yet on that day.
The day the world changed.
Fifteen years ago today.
On the 11th of September, 2001.
The day that began so brilliantly. And ended in such unimaginable tragedy.
Fifteen years ago today.
It was a gorgeous day, that day, 15 years ago today. One of those amazing fall days with deep blue skies and brilliant sunshine that makes you glad to be alive.
And then… and then… the world changed.
• At 8:46 a.m., 15 years ago today, American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston, Massachusetts, crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
• At 9:03 a.m., 15 years ago today, United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center and exploded. Both buildings were burning.
• At 9:37 a.m., 15 years ago today, American Airlines Flight 77 out of Washington Dulles, crashed into the western side of the Pentagon and exploded. All on board and 125 in the Pentagon were killed.
• At 9:59 a.m., 15 years ago today, the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, crashing into the streets below.
• At 10:03 a.m., 15 years ago today, United Airlines Flight 93 was crashed by its hijackers into a field in Pennsylvania after the passengers made a desperate attempt to retake the aircraft. All on board died.
• At 10:29 a.m., 15 years ago today, the World Trade Center’s north tower collapsed from the top down. A cloud of ash turned day to night in the narrow streets of lower Manhattan.
Nearly three thousand lives ended that day, 15 years ago today.
Men. Women. Children. The oldest was 85. The youngest was two.
They died in an instant, vaporized by fireballs. They died long agonizing terrifying minutes later, trapped in the smoke and the flames. They died jumping from the upper floors of the Twin Towers. They died in the Pentagon. They died in a field in Pennsylvania.
Those of us who were alive that day remember it all. We remember as though it happened yesterday. But it was 15 years ago. Fifteen years. Fifteen years.
More than a lifetime for some 26 percent of the human population. Time enough that, you might think, the wounds would have begun to heal.
There was a time, just after that day, when it did seem as though some things had changed for the better. When so many of us seemed to care more, to reach out more, to consider how very precious are the lives of those we love and how little it might take to lose those people in a blinding flash of an instant. We seemed to be taking time to say those very difficult words more often: “I love you.” And we even seemed to mean them more.
But … but… but the truth is, my eyes are still full of tears. I look at this election season, and the deep division it is exposing in the nation I love, and I can’t help but weep. The country the terrorists attacked is one I don’t see much anymore — a place where people read, and asked questions, and challenged ways of thinking, and rejected closed minds, and protected human rights and civil rights, and abided by and valued the rule of law. It was a place where justice was to be achieved at the ballot box and in the courtroom — not by pointing a gun or blowing up a building. Where dissent was valued and the right to dissent was sacrosanct. It was a country where we strove to make everyone equal under the law, where opportunity did not depend on race or gender. It was a country of tolerance, and charity, and love. Love of country, love of family, love of freedom.
If we have lost that country in a wave of nativist, xenophobic, racist, homophobic, misogynistic fear… then the terrorists have won. And it will be more because of what we have done to ourselves than what they did to us. My anger and my fear at that prospect is so deep and so great…
Even without that, it is hard, so hard, to get through this day of remembrance, every year, on 9/11. We who survived can’t help but weep on this terrible day. For everything we lost. For everything that should have been. For all those whose lives were lost. For all who remained behind, broken and bereft.
But I must put that all aside today.
Today, and every year on this day, I must do what I swore I would do, 15 years ago, as I walked with my friend Toni through the streets of lower Manhattan, and stared at the posters with the faces of the missing, and at the empty firehouses, and at the twisted steel girders.
I promised that I would remember.
It is time now to fulfill that promise for this year. It is time again to remember. It is time again to open the film cannister into which I brushed some of the dust of Ground Zero, time again to touch that dust with my own hands, and time 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,1 as long as I have life and breath, in words and images, NEVER FORGET.