A decade of birthdays, anniversaries, births, deaths, new homes, graduations, retirements, that 2,977 people (at last count) have missed, because on an ordinary day, September 11th, 2001, they were going about their business, oblivious to the machinations of nineteen men bent on destruction in the name of their perverted idea of Islam.
There is no singular tragedy of that day. Radiating out from the moment at 8:46 AM when the first plane slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, the tragedies moved outward at the speed of information, rippling waves of doubt, uncertainty, pain, and horror. These waves swallowed up and swamped people from New York City, out across the United States, and into the wider world. Some were devastated. Some were elated. Some were confused. Some were numb.
In an oblique way, the Twin Towers were, as the terrorists saw them, representative of America, or more specifically, the core of our values and beliefs. Together, they were tall, strong, elegant, powerful structures, a commanding presence at the lower end of Manhattan, as America had been in the world. They reached upward, pointing the way toward the sky, toward the future, as America has always done. They were filled with a broad cross-section of our society, from the powerful to the poor, the old and the young, from many creeds, and many races, and many places, just as America was (and is). Their collapse -- abrupt, slow, stately, smoky -- represented perfectly the fall of our air of invincibility, the wrenching of our expectations for our nation, the tearing away of blinders from our eyes, and the desolation that would be left behind after the smoke cleared.
The rubble may be gone from what was named "Ground Zero," but it has not been cleared from the hearts of many of us. Some think that we are belaboring the tragedy. Some think that we are disturbed. Some think that those of us who were not directly affected that day -- losing a loved one, being a first responder, working on the site -- have no business being upset. So many, too many, have written the day off, pushed it to the side, accepted it as history, and chant the mantra of "it's time to get on with life." But... it's not so simple. Wherever you were that day, whatever you were doing, whoever you were, to be exposed to such a momentous and devastating event was to have to process something inconceivable to the normal, steady mind of the average citizen. Perhaps some have the mental capacity, the intestinal fortitude, the hardened feelings to simply allow such a thing to hit them only a glancing blow. Perhaps some can absorb, process, and deal with the matter.
Some of us are not so lucky.
Call it whatever you like, by whatever yardstick you use, but I still carry pain from that day, pain that does not simply bloom and flower ever September 11th, but lives with me and intrudes on my life in unexpected ways. It may rear up its head when I hear my children fighting in the way siblings do. It may manifest when I have left my home and cannot remember if I told my wife I love her. It may seep from the shadows whenever a plane flies over my house at low altitude. It hides within the folds of memory, and pours forth unbidden. I believe much of it is due to the incredulity of the moment; more of it, I feel, is some pent up guilt I hold, for not running downtown to help. I know, in the light of reflection, that there was little one more person could have done, but I have never been the shrinking violet when there was an emergency around me. To be rendered so immobile, to be held in abeyance by abject fear, is so unlike me that perhaps I have had trouble reconciling it. Others might be willing to overlook it, but I am having trouble doing so for myself.
I will be there on Sunday, along with the throng of others in their various states of grief and memory. I will be looking to perhaps, finally, put aside the worst of the day, to wash off the feelings of horror and despair that have clung to me like barnacles. I can't say if I will be successful. I can't say if it will help. But for the memory and for the hopes of 2,977 people, I must try, for as they fell, I must rise. We must rise.