Opinion: On 9/11, recognize the hope of what America promises

Harriet Freiberger
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Twenty years have now passed, but we continue to hear their voices, the men and women whose lives ended on that day.

After 9/11, when the wind came up and raised whirls of dust in that enormous cavity, emptiness remained. Ashes spread as particles into the air which New York City’s millions breathed and settled into a gaping hole where the giants had stood.

Today, where two towers once rose above the New York City skyline, water cascades down the smooth sides of two square pools, footprints of those giants. No longer do massive piles of tangled steel and jutting concrete take awkward and useless shape of two decades earlier. Instead, oak trees border paths that guide visitors out of the city’s noisy, fast-paced energy and into a quiet open space of the 9/11 Memorial.

People walk, hesitant at first, then looking upward through the last of summer’s leaves toward the sky, their thoughts slowly, painfully, leaving the present to travel back in time. Even before the images of that day return, tears moisten most eyes. Then, slowly, as they hear the rustling leaves and the gentle, softly falling water, release their self-imposed protections against the looming sadness that awaits, each traveler steps back into the memories of that day.

Feeling a sheltering gentleness, they pass along the walls surrounding reflecting pools. As living fingertips touch the letters incised into bronze panels, each man and woman and especially each child keeps the best of that, which is America. One hundred years from now, the aged metal will represent whatever those who witnessed that day’s horrors have succeeded in preserving. Death will have become their shared commonality, something distinct in a great city’s humanity, and, indeed, something particular now to all Americans.

Should we remember or try to forget? That day’s wound went deep, not the clean cut of a surgeon’s scalpel, easily stitched and healed, but rather like the tearing of flesh by a rusted saw, ragged, gaping and dirty.

Those who have experienced the death of someone loved and cherished know about the importance of what is left behind — the one who remains grieving from the absence of what had been before, with a friend, a partner, a parent or a child. One individual’s reaction touches the other, building as time passes into an encrusted seam that becomes almost comforting to touch. Remembrance can bring solace but only when, and not until, the wound is cleansed of ugliness.

Those planes demolished the Twin Towers and tore open the fortress that is the Pentagon, but the gaping holes left by would-be destroyers failed to mark Americans as victims. Instead, on the very next day, in cities and towns across the 50 states, everyone, young and old, touched the hand of a loved one, smiled in an understanding way at the next person in line at the grocery store, and reached out to help a stumbling stranger. That is how to get past differences.

A monument bears the names of those who died, but the living carry their spirit along with the full impact of the evil that sought to end the hope of all that America represents — freedom for all without diminishing that of others.

Do we continue nurturing negatives like fear, distrust and hate? Do we listen to those who blame the government, point to conspiracies, remain in disconnect between themselves and those who died? Those who served? Do we stay stuck in disparagement of each other and our country? Do we fail to see how far we have come, how many bridges we have built? For too many, the answer is “yes,” but evidence weighs heavily on the opposite side of the scale. There is no line waiting to leave the citizenship of this country. Time has come to recognize ourselves, each of us, as the hope of what America promises. Masks cannot prevent a good look at the enormous accomplishments of 245 years.

The new tower rises, out of a forest of green and upward 1,776 feet into the skies above New York City. Sept. 11 of the past merges into the future. Footprints of America’s people follow the giants. Today we unite for a brief moment, just as we did 20 years ago. Holding onto the truth of 9/11, we shall build America’s tomorrow.


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