Tuesday, September 11, 2012


There are many ways to remember and pay respect.  Societies choose many different ways to mark an important date in history. Their choices tell as much about their priorities as they do about the event they honor.

On the eleventh anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, here in the New York area, bells will toll, names will be read, lights will pierce the sky, prayers will be offered, and leaders will address gatherings.  Also on this day, arguments will continue to rage.  About what needs to be done to ensure a long-term memorial.  About who needs to do it, and who needs to fund it.  About why it's been taking so long to accomplish.

What does this tell us about our society?  I think it says that we New Yorkers are as splintered as ever in our opinions.  That we are impatient, action-minded, and diverse.  That we care about commitment, but we also calculate costs.  That we look for solutions, but lack solidarity.

In short, that we are Americans.

It was that rich combination of traits that inspired the  World Trade Center in the first place.  And I'm just wondering, today, if the most commemorative aspects of 9/11 are the very controversies that still go on about its commemoration.  After all, they capture and showcase the dialogue of a free people.  They mirror the passionate Continental Congress interchanges that are the root and hallmark of our democracy.  They are Norman Rockwell town meetings, fast forwarded into the Internet Age.  They are who we are.

Free communication, free choices, free debate.  It's the heart of America.  It's the precious value that inspired one group of airline passengers to storm the cabin of Flight 93 and bring down those who would destroy it.  It's the hearty cacophony that was suspended that day, as a cloud of dust descended and a hush froze over our skies.

The truth is, most of us here in the New York area don't need any memorials to recall that day.   We lived through it in such harrowing proximity that it is permanently seared on our psyche.  The images that come to mind years later are still as fresh as last week.  Even today's glorious morning weather comes with a painful realization: that day started out just like this one.

But not everyone carries those memories.  Younger New York residents, and younger citizens of the world, need more explicit reminding.  For many of them, that day in history is only a blur of confusion.  The unique audacity of evil that emerged out its clear blue sky has now become a too-familiar theme.   The stories of human bravery that emerged in its aftermath -- bravery that caused all good people of the world to marvel and mourn -- have faded into cliche.

Today I'm sharing an essay I originally posted on September 10th, 2010 on the blog of my esteemed friend, Dr. Bret L. Simmons.  It was originally a response to the 9/11 Tribute Center's call to observe 9/11 memorials in American schools and  preserve its study in students' history classes.  I agree with that plan as a fitting ongoing commemoration of 9/11's story of love and loss. I present that essay again today, below, in heartfelt sympathy and solidarity with all those who were robbed of their friends and loved ones that day, especially my friends Diane, who lost a firefighter nephew, and Loretta, who lost a son-in-law.

There will be many memorials today, all of them different, all of them difficult.  Many diverse people will pause to honor the heroes and victims.  We will allow our memories to drift back again and relive that tragic time when all New York was one in its shock, grief and compassion.  We will be one again.

To "commemorate" means to remember together.   We do.  And we always will.  --  Beth


In Memoriam

The imprint of the Twin Towers attack is deep and personal for those of us who lived and worked in the New York area at the time.
My daughter was in a 7th grade classroom on that day, with her classmate Lauren whose dad worked in the towers. After the second tower fell, I arrived at the school with other anxious parents. We wanted to reassure our kids. The principal met us in the hall to tell us that they had only made a brief announcement, and the kids were having school as usual. She also told us that Lauren’s father was all right. Through a fluke, he had started for work late that day. Driving into Manhattan, he had seen the column of smoke, turned on the radio — and joined dozens of other drivers who were making U turns on the eight lane highway.
Not all parents of seventh graders were so fortunate. Around here, those of us who did not lose a loved one that morning invariably know people who did. Our impressions of 9/11 encompass not only that day, but the days that followed: the frantic phone call, and the relief or pain that resulted. The silence overhead in a sky normally dotted with commercial airliners. The rage and fear each day as we struggled back to our jobs, dreading to hear about another co-worker’s loved one being confirmed as a victim.
We asked, and were constantly asked in return, the code question: “Is your family all right?” We watched fluttering missing persons fliers (“Have You Seen…?”) collect on telephone poles. We held drives to collect bottled water and clean socks for rescue workers down at “the Pile” who ultimately had no one to rescue.
We lived through night terrors and winced at loud noises. Some of us started going to church again. Some of us stayed home. Some of us went into therapy. Some of us should have, but didn’t. Most of us just kept on (and still keep on) getting on the commuter trains, the subways, and the elevators to our cubicles on the 17th, or 27th, or 67th floor.
Today in the New York area, one routinely comes across memorial parks for the fallen — a ring of fifty markers in one community alone. The annual reading of names evokes real faces. The local newspapers’ obituary pages are thick with pictures placed by proud families of young, strong first responders who were last seen heading up a hot stairwell. The sound of the ringing bells echoes down long corridors of memory, bringing back the past in waves of sadness.
Yesterday [Note: this article was first published on Saturday September 9th, 2010] was a day just like that first 9/11 –sunny, bright, in the high 70’s. Crisp and fresh, with a breeze kicking up from the harbor, and a hint of fall in the air. By evening, high clouds had drifted in. I drove with my daughter (who is now 21) to the shore, to a spot where we could see, on the western horizon, the beams of the two searchlights that are lit each year in memory of 9/11.
Unbelievably, she barely remembers anything unusual about that day. We shielded our kids so well. Because of the sadness, and because of the random ferocity of the attacks, it may be understood why parents like me did everything we could to keep things as normal and non-threatening as possible.
For those same reasons, I can understand why we as a society have not taken action yet to show our kids the real truth of 9/11. But looking at those twin beams lighting up the darkness with their fragile shafts, I realized last night that memorials are only as strong as the empowerment we continue to consciously give them.
I applaud the Tribute Center’s efforts. On September 11th, I don’t think our kids should be having school as usual. I hope that instead, our memories, and our sadness, can continue to shed light not only on the events of nine years ago, but on our path going forward.

Read more: http://www.bretlsimmons.com/2010-09/leadership-requires-teaching-the-real-truth-about-our-history/#ixzz25s66zR00

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