Guest column: Those who carry the memory of Sept. 11, 2001 have a responsibility

Harriet Freiberger
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Harriet Freiberger bows her head in silence during a previous ceremony honoring the victims of 9/11 at the Yampa River Botanic Park.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Twenty-two years have passed. The children whose fathers or mothers died on our behalf have grown up, many now parents themselves. We who carry the memory of Sept. 11, 2001 have a responsibility to them and to all the rest of America. It cannot wait.

The date speaks — a number that defines a moment in time and calls the names of those who became innocent victims. The youngest survivors know only what has been kept and shared of the grief, and only those in New York City and Washington, D.C. felt that heat and breathed the hot choking smoke that enveloped them. Westerly winds carried physical remains in ashes that became part of the imprint of what had been.

Television carried the scenes to the rest of the shocked world, and for a moment, Americans touched each other and reached out to honor those who died in our place. In just that way, we might begin to repair the separation we feel from each other and return to the shining of freedom’s red, white and blue.

Our country has been stuck in its winter of discontent, ugliness apparent in the failures that have separated political parties, families and friends. And yet, a new awareness clarifies something not yet identified. It has swelled from each of us who felt the impact of the towers’ disintegration, unrest still with us, touching something that has been set aside for two decades.

This September morning speaks to hope that something is changing. Can we look back and see the repeating pattern that awaits if we remain blind? One hundred years ago, war had just ended, to be followed by a killing flu epidemic, a “jazz” age and then — only 30 years later — another war and hundreds of thousands more deaths. Again, now in this 21st century, a flu epidemic shut people off from the world, and like before, “anything goes” in a new kind of jumbled departure from the old rules.

What will come next for the great-grandchildren of those men and women who lived when a quarter in one’s pocket could mean the difference between hunger and starvation? They were the same Americans who stood with 48 other nations against an Axis of Evil.

In less than three years from now, America will celebrate its 250th birthday, reaching into new horizons upon the earth’s surface and beyond, into the stars. Risks and rewards, greater than ever before in human history include the potential of ultimate self-destruction. Children who matured after Sept. 11, 2001 will face this new century as the coming leaders. What they learn from those who watched those planes crash in New York City will determine the next coming together of the earth’s people: respecting of differences or fear of life as a futile struggle toward feeling good?

Time is of the essence. Americans who witnessed that day 22 years ago connect past and future and, in so doing, can welcome a new springtime — for ourselves and for our country.

The date speaks in more than words, defining a moment in time, a powerful link between what has been and what is coming to be. Calling the names of those who became innocent victims on our behalf can prompt each of us to see ourselves with a new and widening perspective. 

We who carry the memory of that day have a responsibility to them and to all the rest of America. It cannot wait.

Harriet Freiberger has lived in the Elk River valley since 1982.

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