17 years later…
There will be fog, and cloudy skies, and thunderstorms in the New York area today.
And I am so deeply glad that that is so.
This is a day when I just can’t bear to open my eyes and see the bright sunshine and the crisp clear blue skies that make September such a joy in the New York metropolitan area.
I can’t bear it because that’s what it was like on that day 17 years ago.
That September day…
September 11, 2001…
And the memory of that day remains too strong, too raw, even now… 17 years later.
Those of us who were alive then remember how the events of September 11, 2001, were fast-paced and horrific:
• At 8:46 a.m., 17 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., 17 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., 17 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., 17 years ago today, the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, crashing into the streets below.
• At 10:03 a.m., 17 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., 17 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.
In those few horrible moments between 8:46 a.m. and 10:29 a.m., nearly 3,000 men, women and children lost their lives to senseless, mindless, blind hatred. 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.
The oldest was 85 years old. The youngest was only two.
And that’s not all. Many of the first responders and workers at what became known as Ground Zero contracted serious illnesses from their exposure to toxic fumes. Some have died. More undoubtedly will. It simply boggles the mind, no matter how you look at it. There were — there continue to be — so many losses…
Losses that keep us from healing, from even beginning to heal. Losses that today seem to include even the values that made this country into something the terrorists wanted to attack. Because the country the terrorists attacked — the one they hated — was 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 or wealth. It was a country of tolerance, and charity, and love. Love of country, love of family, love of freedom.
I am afraid 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, if we turn freedom of the press into “the press is the enemy,” if we close our borders and our minds, 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, 17 years ago, as I walked with my dear 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.