With the exception of 2018, I have published this post each year since 2015 on September 11th, sharing memories of that day in 2001 when life changed, my thoughts and reflections. I planned to write a new one this year, but as I read over it, I realized that I cannot say it any better today than I said it five years ago, and frankly, amidst the rubble of chaos, turmoil and divisiveness in our nation today, inspiration simply did not come to me. I’ve come to realize that not only did we not learn the lessons of that day, but that in every way imaginable, the United States has become a much crueler, harsher, less respected and less respectable nation today than it was in 2001. I skipped my 9/11 post in 2018, for I felt that amidst the chaos and divisiveness of this nation, it had lost its relevance. I was wrong … we need to remember … we must not forget, we must look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we have learned anything in the 19 years since our world turned upside down in a matter of 102 minutes.
Nineteen years ago. It seems so much longer … another lifetime. And yet … and yet, it seems like such a short time ago. I remember the morning well. A key staff member was on vacation and I had to cover, so I arrived at work well before dawn, but I stepped outside sometime between 8:30 and 9:00 for a smoke break. The sky was the bluest I could recall ever seeing it and I thought it must be the most perfect day ever. Within a half-hour, I would be left in tears, cursing the day, hoping to awaken from this nightmare.
I went back inside from my smoke-break, and an employee, Susie, came up to me and asked if I had heard about the plane that crashed into the World Trade Center. If the building I worked in then had not since been demolished, I could show you the exact tile I was standing on at that moment, just as I could tell you that when we received news of the assassination of JFK, I was at home plate with bat in hand, waiting for the pitch that would never come. Just as my grandfather often told exactly where he was and what he was doing when the news of the attack on Pearl Harbour came over ‘the wireless’. You think it is a literary trick when an author says “time stood still”? Well, I can tell you … for me, time did stand still, as I must have also. I seemed to have lost all feeling, all senses shut down … I could not hear nor see. After that, it all blurs into a series of news updates … a 2nd plane, then the Pentagon, then a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the name Usama bin Laden. A gathering in the cafeteria, a television rolled into another room where we all gathered. Financial statements, payroll, printing presses and the like forgotten for the moment. Tearful phone calls home to the girls. Then day after day, glued to the television every waking moment. In my household, we had a then-6-year-old and finally had to turn to Nickelodeon, but the images remained in our eyelids, in our hearts, in our souls. And the tears never stopped.
Today we mark the 19th memorial of that awful day. We do so in many ways, but the saddest thing for me is that we did not learn the lessons we needed to learn from that tragedy. Today, our nation is more divided than ever. In the days and weeks that followed what would become known simply as 9/11, it seemed we were on the right path. People from all over the nation and Canada traveled to Ground Zero to help with search and rescue, and eventually cleanup operations. Shopkeepers gave out free food and water. People helped neighbors, friends and strangers. We all empathized with each other, treated each other a little kinder, gave a bit more freely of our hugs and kind words.
Compare and contrast to today, when we are a nation divided by hatred, divided by a lack of understanding for those who do not look, act or think like us. And there are many who blame today’s vitriolic environment on 9/11, those who decided to hate all who share a religion with the plotters and perpetrators of the horrific acts of 9/11. But it doesn’t stop there … our nation has renewed its call for racial discrimination, religious intolerance, and hatred of those who are perceived as ‘different’ in one way or another. We have lost our way.
That which “we will never forget” has already been forgotten by some, it would seem. A mattress company releases the following ad:
“Right now, you can get any sized mattress for a twin price!” says a grinning woman flanked by two employees in the 20-second spot. She flings her arms out and the men tumble backwards, knocking over two tall piles of mattresses. The woman screams “Oh my God!” in mock panic, then immediately recovers her composure and adds, with a half-smile: “We’ll never forget.” It quickly attracted local, then national outrage. The ad was taken down, and Mike Bonanno, the owner of Miracle Mattress, issued the following statement: “I say this unequivocally, with sincere regret: the video is tasteless and an affront to the men and women who lost their lives on 9/11.”
How did he not realize how “tasteless” it was before it aired?
One Wal-Mart, in conjunction with Coca-Cola, erected a display to “commemorate” the 9/11 anniversary. It was taken down after much criticism. And other companies have also tried to use 9/11 for sales and profit. It is not a commercial holiday. We do not celebrate with hot dogs and beer. It is a day of national mourning. It is a day of solemnity. Commercialism has no place on this day, no right to use it as a gimmick. Can you imagine Pearl Harbor, or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy being commercialized? There was one commercial ad that truly was a tribute to the day. It aired only once, in 2002. I still find it to be a beautiful tribute and it still brings tears. Please take just one minute to watch it.
Before airing the commercial, Anheuser-Busch sought and received approval from Congress, as well as then-mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani. There is no company logo until the end, and since it aired only once, given the cost of producing the ad, the company made no profit from it, nor did they intend to. It truly feels like a tribute rather than a cheap shot. It was tasteful … respectful.
Positive, Encouraging, Hopeful Messages
In 2016, in a rare display of partisanship, 200 members of Congress stood on the steps beneath the recently restored Capitol dome and prayed, observed a moment’s silence and, accompanied by a marine band, sang God Bless America to mark the imminent anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The remembrance ceremony, with Democrats and Republicans standing side by side, was heartening, though it would have been much more so had all 535 members of Congress participated. Will we see that repeated this year? I doubt it.
I understand that Donald Trump and Joe Biden both plan to attend a 9/11 memorial held at the field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania today. In my opinion, politics has no place in this ceremony or others, and Trump only desecrates the day with falsehoods, as I can never forget that after the towers fell, he bragged that now his was the tallest building in the city.
I end where I began, by saying that we have lost our way, we have failed to learn from this, and to some extent we have failed to keep our promise to “never forget”. The nation is more bitterly divided, more everything-phobic today than it was prior to 11 September 2001. Rather than embracing our differences, we are using them as an excuse for hatred. Rather than loving our fellow man, we are killing him. Unless we learn to unite and work together for the sake of not only our nation, but of humanity, we are doomed to repeat the past. I would ask the readers of this blog to do this one thing: be kind today, do not put anyone down, offer a smile to any you see, and hug your family just a little tighter today … just for today. Below are just a few pictures I would like to share, to remind us all of that day.