Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years Gone: Remembering September 11, 2001

This post departs from the usual memories of life here in South Philly. Five years ago today, our world changed. Some would say it changed for the worst, but if we look at what happened on that day and those that followed, we can surely see that it may have changed for the better.

You will no doubt remember where you were when you heard the news on September 11, 2006. Like a generation or so before us who remembered where they were and what they were doing when they heard the tragic news of President Kennedy being assasinated, we too remember. For me, it was a hard, rude awakening. I had slept late that morning, still recovering from cervical fusion surgery exactly one week previously. My wife Patty woke me up to tell me, saying something like "It just came on the news, a plane hit the World Trade Center." Just as I started to reply "What? That's not right, that's bad", she said "both towers" and it was immediately clear. This was an attack, not an accident. We were suddenly at war, and we remain so to this day in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There are many memories that have never left our minds of that fateful day five years ago. To this day, I can still remember how it felt weatherwise on that September Tuesday, and for some reason, it seems I remember the feel of the night air even more. The memory of the sight of hundreds or thousands of faces pasted on storefronts, utility poles and other places remains, a sad memory to the fact that each of them denotes a face and a member of someone's family who probably never came home. Being home recuperating, I remember watching Dan Rather and the others of CBS News telling us that a plane had hit the Pentagon in Washington, and then not long afterward that an unconfirmed report had come in that yet another plane had crashed in western Pennsylvania. So we wondered, how many more? How many more planes were targeting buildings, how many more American lives were in jeopardy? And I remember just shortly before the collapse of the twin towers, asking how the men of FDNY could possibly fight a fire that high up. The collapse of each tower gave the answer. There would be no need to fight the fires, and the valiant rescues and attempted rescues ended for the most part then and there.

And we remembered having hope. I still remember one firefighter being shown on the screen, walking the streets near Ground Zero, proclaiming that a number of firefighters were found alive. Sadly, it was not to be so. But we hoped and prayed.

And we saw on that day that the people of America showed their best. They gave of themselves, whether it with money from pocket change or checking accounts, or of blood from their veins. They gave food and drink to those working what seemed to be an impossible task, searching for survivors and clearing the rubble of Ground Zero. And they came from all over the country, firefighters and civilians, seeking to aid the firefighters of NYC in that daunting task. America showed her best, and that memory too remains in us all. We remember that Americans showed our enemies that they would not be defeated, that evil would not prevail.

Well, that was true for most Americans. I remember too a cab ride home from the doctors after a surgical follow-up, just a few weeks after 9/11. I was talking to the cab driver, an American about the attacks. He noted that there was a climate of fear for many of the drivers because there were some Americans who threatened any cab driver that was not "one of us". Especially nervous were the Sikh drivers, the men you see wearing turbans. No matter that they weren't Muslim, some morons considered them the enemy. Thankfully, the number of those morons was in the vast minority.

We're now five years past that day. Five years, and the grief still remains for those who lost family, friends, fellow Americans on that dreadful day. Five years, and our men and women are still serving our country, facing danger in far-away places. No matter what your politics, pray for them and support them. Most did not ask to be sent there, but went to serve out of duty for their country, for you and me.
And pray for the safety of this nation. Somewhere there are evil men seeking the destruction of this nation, their aim to destroy all that we stand for, whether it be independence, religious freedoms, or mere individuality. Pray that our Justice Department, intelligence agencies, Department of Homeland Security, are successful at revealing the threats and destroying the plots before those who aim to do those things are themselves successful. May God help these United States, that we never again experience the terror, destruction, and grief that we experienced on that day, five years ago.

...To the firefighters and police officers who ran into two burning towers in hopes of rescuing those yet to make it to safety. Some gave their lives, some survived, bearing the memories and wounds.

...To the air traffic controllers who performed the monumental task of bringing to the ground safely thousands of flights that were airborne on that day, ensuring the safety of tens or hundreds of thousands of people, citizens of this nation and others.

...To those who volunteered to do everything from search for survivors to offering bottled water to those who did. So many gave and showed us that Americans weren't selfish people, but cared for each other.

...To the men and women of the United States Armed Forces - Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corp.

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