It would be wrong, I think, to let this day go by without stopping for a moment to remember and reflect on what happened in New York six years ago. A nation, a people should never forget, should never try to gloss over or let slide, as tempting as it may be, the memories of events pepetrated on other human beings that are just seemingly too outrageous and horrific for any but the most evil imagination to conjure.
And while what happened that day was certainly not about me, or my family, in some ways it was about me and my family, because it forced me to think differently about the life and the world that I had taken for granted since birth.
I was on an airplane that morning – of course, not one of the airplanes, another airplane, going to Florida, a trip I’ve taken countless times before (and since). We were in the air somewhere over Pennsylvania I think, when we got the news that the plane would be making “an unexpected landing for a matter of national security.” People immediately started powering up cell phones, and snippets of news reports came flying throughout the plane. “Someone’s bombed the Pentagon!” we heard. “A plane has crashed into the Capitol!” came another voice. “No, it’s the World Trade Center! It’s collapsed.”
I noticed the woman across the aisle from me, a woman about my age, whom I had noticed earlier in the flight because she was reading the same paperback book I was (Follow the Stars Home, by Luanne Rice) and because her sandals were really cute. But when she heard these scattered remarks, she turned whiter than any cloud flying by outside the window.
“My sons,” she whispered, when I reached across to touch her hand. “One works at the Pentagon, and one works in New York.” I gripped her hand across the aisleway between us, and held onto it as tightly as I could.
Within about 45 minutes we landed in Greensboro, North Carolina. Jim and I had made our plans – we would rent a car, and drive the rest of the way. Ha! The airport terminal was like a madhouse, and there were certainly no rental cars to be had anywhere in the state of North Carolina. Like sheep, we followed the other passengers to a hotel in town, where the lot of us stayed for the next three days, sitting cross legged on the floor in the lobby, on our beds, flipping channels on the television sets we were glued to, watching as what seemed to be the end of the world unfold before our eyes. (By the way, I stuck closely to my seatmate from across the aisle, who eventually heard from both of her sons that they were fine.)
Trapped 1000 miles in either direction from my son and the rest of my family, I was forced to confront my own complacency. “Bin Laden” and “Al Quaeda” were words I’d barely heard before, and now it appeared these people had the audacity, and yes, the power, to attack this country of mine.
What struck me about that time was the way we were united in our grief, our horror, our disbelief, how our differences were forgotten and everyone wanted to help someone, anyone, somehow, because in doing something-anything-for someone else, we were in some small way a little less powerless.
And what has struck me in the intervening years – just six short years, an eyeblink in historical terms – is the manner in which we have so quickly reverted to our self centeredness, our negativism, our crabbing and carping about the petty realities of daily life in these United States.
Can we regain that sense of unity, that feeling of determination to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and take back our lives, that willingness to unselfishly give whatever measure of devotion might be required to make the world (and our loved ones) safe from that kind of horror?
Politically, I have no idea. I’m not politically savvy, I never have been. I can’t help but think, though, that individually, if we can try to remember those feelings from that day and use them in a positive way, each in our own small corners of the world, that life could be better and stronger for us in these United States.
It is a day worth remembering, in many, many ways.