16 years later…
It was sixteen years ago today.
A stunningly beautiful day, one of those early fall days in the northeast that fills your heart with joy as you inhale the crisp morning air under deep blue skies with brilliant sunshine.
A day on which, you might have thought, nothing could possibly go wrong with the world.
A day when we discovered just how badly things could go wrong.
A day when the world — our world — changed, forever, and not for the better.
Sixteen years ago today.
The 11th of September, 2001.
A day that began with such promise.
And that ended with such unspeakable tragedy.
With so many people — among them my neighbors, my colleagues, my friends — wiped from the face of the earth.
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 the corridors and hallways of the Pentagon.
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.
Gone, in those moments, when the world changed.
• At 8:46 a.m., 16 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., 16 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., 16 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., 16 years ago today, the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, crashing into the streets below.
• At 10:03 a.m., 16 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., 16 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, 16 years ago today.
Men. Women. Children. The oldest was 85. The youngest was two.
Those of us who were alive that day remember it all. We remember as though it happened yesterday. Yet 16 years have passed since that terrible day. Time enough that, you might think, the wounds would have begun to heal.
Oh, I remember, 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.
The last year has made so many of us doubt whether better is even possible any more. We look at the deep divisions that have been exposed in this nation we love so much, the dark underbelly that has come to the surface, and we can’t help but despair.
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… if people marching through the streets with the torches of racism are to be the new norm… 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, 16 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.