I've watched this date approach for weeks, and words are not enough. It's a hole on the calendar, about the size of the hole in my heart. It doesn't hurt less knowing so many of us ache for the same reason. Eight years on, remembering and thinking about the events of 11 September 2001 doesn't diminish the pain of remembrance or reduce the power of recollection.
Four planes, people whose lives were suddenly and horribly ended in the air and on the ground, three buildings- two totally destroyed, the other deeply scarred, and a Pennsylvania field forever transformed into a memorial. And eight years later, the sharp edge of regret and loss has dulled slightly, as time has worn it down, but the hurt gets worse as the heart gets harder.
Earlier this week, in the here and now of politics as usual, there was a great deal of talk about "teachable moments." I can recall one such moment eight years ago as vividly now as when I first experienced it, mesmerized as were we all by the video screens, struggling to comprehend the small dots and tiny figures we saw falling from the upper stories of the World Trade Center to the street below were actually human beings who, moments earlier, had been at work, now confronted by horrors without end no matter how they chose. I had started prep school in New York City the same year of the groundbreaking for the World Trade Center, so all of the construction and the destruction happened, so to speak, on my watch.
The WTC towered over 'The City' as a fact of life in downtown, a force of nature and a presence, more felt than seen. There's a hole in the earth where the twin towers stood and then fell, referred to now as Ground Zero (arrive at Grand Central, Port Authority or JFK, it doesn't matter, and tell the cabbie 'Ground Zero' and everyone knows where you mean). Manhattan looked to the WTC the way the fingers on the hand look to the thumb. The destruction was no less real at the Pentagon, in Washington, D. C., where so many in and out of uniform who served America and worked to preserve her peace had war visited upon them, without warning or reason. Nor was the devastation across a Pennsylvanian hillside less painful or complete where, for weeks and months afterwards, no blade of grass grew and no bird flew. All we felt was a raw ache.
We seemed to move closer together, if only for the briefest of moments-a parent spending an extra eye blink as a child departed for a play date or outside for catch-a spouse lingering in the arms of a significant other for the shared heartbeat of a joined and joint caress before the workaday of everyday recaptured them--an almost imperceptible nod towards a neighbor as we passed on the street or at the market. No one was untouched.
We seemed to listen more carefully to one another, at least for a time afterwards. We spoke to each other instead of at each other. Having witnessed how frail and fragile life could be, it seemed we had resolved to see past and through the political and cosmetic differences and find the essentials and seek a common ground. And then tomorrow and tomorrow and that well-known petty pace crept in and we found ourselves standing together at anniversary remembrances of today, but not as close as we had stood the year previous.
Slowly, we chose a return to a country that always seems to involve blaming and shaming, shouting and pointing, pushing and shoving, posturing and pouting, until here we are, eight years older but, I fear, not eight years wiser. Many of us have forgotten, or choose to forget, that we have been always been where everyone else on earth has wanted to be. No one seeking to come here has ever thought we were perfect, but believed we allow everyone and anyone the opportunity to dream and to become their dream. We were the folks with the open hearts and open minds, who rolled up a sleeve to help out a neighbor or someone we'd not yet met half-way across the world, who looked you squarely in the eye and whether we agreed or not, always let you speak your mind and tell us your heart.
For some, today is a national day of service (to others and to the ideals upon which we were founded). And that is a path worth exploring as we can still use a lot of help even if we're not sure how to ask for it. Maybe we can start on a return to being the greatest nation on earth everyone else continues to believe we are-and to be, again, the Americans that everyone else sees when they look to us. We could get along better, maybe by muddling along together, by rediscovering the beliefs and values that bring and keep us togther, make us who we are and seeing how that goes. Perhaps we could begin to do all of that today. "Let kingdom come I'm gonna find my way, through this lonesome day."