Remembering 9/11

Today this web site goes dark. No information, no sales, nothing but a remembrance.

Many people will remember the events of 9/11/01 in their own way. I'm a writer, so this is my own way.

The pictures of that day have been seared into my brain,. They are images I can never forget. They still come to the front on my mind, unbidden, at unpredictable times. The images began that horrible morning. An acquaintance called me early, telling me to turn on my television. I did. The pictures were of two buildings burning. The television showed not only the live images, but the reruns of the second jet striking. I could only sit on the edge of my bed and watch, in horror. My mind almost failed to register what was happening. On any other morning, the routine would kick in: to the bathroom to shower, maybe shave, get dressed, make lunch, collect my things, and off to work. Nothing kicked in on this morning.

But then, nothing was normal that morning. Normalcy died that day. Or at least, what passed for normal.

Time passed, eyes rooted to the television screen. Images played over and over. Talking heads trying to find the words to describe those images. For a long time, I sat unmoving, feeling the shock shared my millions, perhaps billions, of others. Yet at some point, movement set in. The morning routine began, delayed, for what else could I do? Yet the routine was on, for the lack of a better word, autopilot. What else could I do? What could anyone do?

I am sure I must have gotten some work done that day. I cannot remember what it might have been. But the Internet saved the day. My cube neighbor had an Internet broadcast of NPR. I was able to find a streaming video feed of a network news channel. For both of us, those connections to the outside world were part of our desktops the whole day. I know at least half of my mind was attuned to what was happening in that small video window. As events continued to unfold, as facts began to be uncovered, the disbelief continued to grow. And the feeling of shock remained.

Everyone has their stories of how they were affected. Yet from 3000 miles away, it would seem that the effect would be just as distant, even as there was also a realization that this was an attack on the nation and the world. How wrong I was.

Wednesday evening, I came to the sudden realization that I knew someone who had said he was traveling to New York City on business. As soon as the realization hit, I picked up the phone. I didn't think that it was already midnight on the east coast. Remarkably, the phone was answered after just a couple of rings. The sound of his voice was a great relief. Yet the story he told me was chilling. He said then that he had been staying in a hotel adjacent to the World Trade Center and had actually seen the second plane hit. He described literally getting out and running for his very life as the towers collapsed. How can anyone imagine the feeling of being in such a situation? But I know the relief I felt at hearing his voice, even as I felt horror at the situation he described.

The next day was worse. I was talking to a friend that evening. Like many of us, we reached out to our friends, touching the ones we know. At one point, he mentioned that "Mark" was on flight 93. At that moment, the name didn't ring a bell, but I searched the Internet, once again a valuable tool, for news reports. And that's when I found that I was more personally affected that AI had at first assumed.

Of course, no one was affected as directly or as strongly as those who lost family on that day. But the shock and sadness to learn that Mark Bingham, who I had played basketball and football with, had been on that plane. When I saw one report that showed his picture, that shock and sadness set in. Then, as now, I wrote.

As time passed, I watched the politicians that are supposed to represent us posture under the veil of patriotism. In doing so, they passed laws that took away the freedoms that are the hallmark of this country, of what some peoples in other lands, or other cultures, fear and hate. Or long for.

I watched the people around me express their patriotism in ways never before seen. But, sadly, some were misguided, and some were simply jingoism. And I could not help noticing the ironies in some displays, most notably the gas-guzzling SUVs (Where do we get all that gas? The Middle East!) sporting brand-new American flag stickers. Or worse, flag displays blocking whole windows, making their drivers' visibility worse.

Seeing this made me realize the meaning of patriotism, and it is little different that the meaning of honesty: it is not what you say, but what you do.

Paying taxes is a patriotic act. Stopping at stop signs and signaling lane changes when driving are patriotic acts. Saying "good morning" to your neighbor is a patriotic act. Helping a friend is a patriotic act. And of course, voting is a patriotic act.

Of course, America does not have a monopoly on morality or patriotism. But the events of one year ago made us realize here just how fortunate we are to live here. No, this country is not perfect. But neither did it deserve to be attacked. We are strong enough to defend ourselves, yet compassionate enough to befriend anyone who would embrace our friendship.

What will I do to commemorate this day of tragedy. Well, many have said that the best thing we all could do in the days following that horrible day is to not let the terrorists win, to go on with our good lives. What better thing, then, than to take in a bit of America's pastime?

In that vein, I would add this voice in the wilderness: many people have been debating what to do at the World Trade Center site; I say let's rebuild it. As much a center of commerce, the World Trade Center was a symbol, a symbol of one American ideal. I say let's rebuild that symbol, reestablish that monument to capitalism, renew our commitment to one of our strengths. When we reach for the skies, we reach for our dreams. Anything less to replace the attempt to steal our dreams is an admission that we should not dream so high. I believe we should dream that high.

And what better memory to our heroes than to keep our dreams.