9/11 Remembered

There is an excellent article in the New York Post today that brings the memory of September 11 back as sharply as a camera lens focusing on something at a distance. It’s an excerpt from a book, “The Eleventh Day: The full story of 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden” by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan.

As the writers point out, September 11 was an incredibly beautiful day, not just in the Northeast, but across the nation. They begin to lay out the series of events in ways that jog your memory.

In Memphis it was as beautiful as a day could be – crisply blue, free of excessive heat, the trees and lawn still clinging to green before fall starts its withering creep. I woke up with concerns for my mother. Her brother had died unexpectedly a month earlier. I knew she would be brooding about it. August 11 had been a shock, particularly since my other uncle had died that same day a year earlier.

Everyone went to school and work and I was concerned also with preparations for my husband’s birthday the next day. I was also going ahead with a cake for my mother, whose birthday is two days later.

When the news reported a plane had hit the World Trade Center, it was surprising, but smaller planes had hit skyscrapers like the Empire State Building before, only harming the errant pilot. But when another plane struck, I think everyone in America shuddered, too.

It all went down so fast. Unbelievably fast. I watched at home in horror, like everyone else. Eyes saw it, but the mind couldn’t comprehend it. We all watched in one morning thousands of people lose their lives, and two monoliths tumble to the ground in Manhattan. When Mayor Rudy Giuliani called for 30,000 body bags it seemed likely that so many would die.

I visited the World Trade Center three times: 1979, 1983 and 1999. The latter date was a trip to New York planned by my parents to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. My father had insisted we dine at Windows on the World. Suddenly a lot of that came back. The subway trip to the building and the shops that lined it; changing to another elevator to get to the restaurant; arriving and being seated; the faces of the waiters and maitre’d. Even the bathroom and its attendant spilled back in memory. I thought of the bar area of the restaurant with its magnificent view of the Statue of Liberty. We asked if our daughters, 11 and 14, could go into the bar – briefly – to see it. They acquiesced. The restaurant was a magical place, especially at twilight, with New York City in all its glory laid out, twinkling and throbbing.

And it was all over in a morning.

The death the terrorists gave the people at that restaurant was one of the most gruesome imaginable. As Summer and Swan relate, “death came slowly at Windows on the World.” They choked on the air, tried to get on the roof to escape, but all were doomed.

We could watch, and did, on TV as people jumped to their deaths. The authors tell the poignant, horrible details; how a woman jumper pulled on her skirt in modesty as she descended; how one employee of Cantor Fitzgerald was found months later, “intact in his suit and tie, seated upright in the rubble.”

It all seemed to come out of nowhere, too. Who hated us so much and why?

People are still asking that question.

Yesterday in The Commercial Appeal, clergy were asked to share their thoughts of that day. It was discouraging to read some of the responses, especially that of Father Al Kirk. He said, “what if, instead of invading Afghanistan, we had invested funds and people power into building up the tribal areas and cities in which our enemies flourish? What if we had invested even a fourth of the cost of our military response in refurbishing our own infrastructure or in creating jobs? I suspect the mood of our country would be different than it is today.”

It’s easy to take that tact. The “what ifs” are a dreamer’s way out. Very few of us like the thought of war or want to waste our time hating an enemy. But Father Kirk and others overlook the self hatred many in Islam have for themselves, not us. More Muslims have died at the hands of other Muslims than have been hurt by us.

The terrorists were overcome by evil, evil inflicted on themselves as well as us. You have to have some amount of self loathing to kill yourself as the hijackers did. You have to have allowed evil to take you over, as the hijackers did. There isn’t any compromise with evil, unfortunately. It must be ended.

If you’ve forgotten how you felt that day, read this article. Few of us felt, that day, that things could ever return to normal for us. For the most part, they have.

It isn’t because we ran from the enemy. We ran to the enemy, as the firefighters did in the Towers.

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