Remembering – 10 Years Gone By

It’s a little surreal to think that 10 years have passed since the events of September 11th, 2001. In some ways, it doesn’t seem like it has been that long, and yet so much has happened in the intervening years that 10 years does not seem that long. 9/11 was a very public event, and yet the ways that we experienced it have been distinctly personal. On this solemn day of remembrance of the terrible events of that day, we’re all looking back to where we were when the planes hit the towers, and who we were as people back then before the world changed forever.

My world was very different on the morning of September 11th, 2001. I was married and living in Portland, Oregon. In fact, I had only been living there for about a year, and adjusting to American culture as a Canadian, something that most would think would be simple, had been eye-opening. Americans are a contrdiction in being, I had found; on the one hand, they seemed so terribly laid back, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, yet at the same time so exceptionally uptight when it came to security, It was an oddity for me to experience, to know so many people who were firearms owners and proud defenders of the culture of gun ownership. And, it all seemed so quaint to see that stereotype in flesh and blood.

We slept on a futon in the livingroom of our apartment. I remember the phone ringing early in the morning. I was supposed to be working a later shift that day, so I was still in bed. My wife answered the phone and through my grogginess I registered that something was wrong. Her voice was breaking as she talked, and she was scrambling to turn the TV on. A bright, cheery sun was streaming through the windows and bathing the room a gentle yellow. She hung up the phone as the TV came on and I asked what was the matter.

“We’re at war,” she said with a shaky voice, “we’re being attacked.”

You have to understand that what I saw in those immediate moments on the TV screen, with those words and the obvious emotion and shock there were delivered with as a backdrop, were brutally confusing for a waking mind to absorb. I saw tall towers with smoking scars on their sides. I saw the replay of the planes hitting the buildings and the explosions that accompanied the impact. I saw local news ticking across the bottom of the screen highlighting what buildings were being evacuated in the event of further attacks. And, I didn’t immediately register that this was the World Trade Center in New York.

I just looked out the patio windows and wondered how it could seem so sunny and calm outside when something this chaotic and viol3ent was happening around me.

Of course, I figured out quick enough that this wasn’t happening in Portland. I started to wrap my mind around the enormity of it all. But, I will never forget those first moments when the brutality of the events of 9/11 felt like they were on my doorstep. For those few moments, i must have felt and thought some of the same things that those poor New Yorkers felt and thought as they stood on the sidewalks and watched the buildings burn.

I have strong political opinions, and strong opinions on many things, in fact. I also don’t have any particular qualms about sharing my opinions or arguing my point, essentially because I think this kind of activity is the most fundamental way in which people can share the breadth and depth of their intellect with one another, and the best way for us to educate eachother and change the shape of our collective wisdom. I don’t think that the Western world, and the US in specific, is completely free from complicity in the atrocity of September 11th, and I don’t think we have entirely learned the lesson that it has occassioned. I don’t think we should have gone to Afghanistan. I think it’s right that we’re still there. I’m glad that we didn’t go to Iraq. And, I don’t think any of that has ultimately made us any safer. I also don’t think all the changes that we have endured that have impacted our personal freedoms and privacies have been for the best, and I think that in a lot of ways, in this, the terrorists have won.

And, I am extremely proud to live n a country where I can have and share those opinions without fear of persecution or censure.

9/11 is all of that, and none of it. Each of the planes that were lost on that day, and each of the lives that perished, was a bullet to the heart and soul of the American, and Western people. It was a bold and brutal demonstration of not only the ability for those who hate us to reach us in such a violently intimate way, but also proof of how hated we are in some corners of the world. It was proof that nobody is invulnerable. And, the massive outpouring of generosity, patriotic pride and selfless help that came in the days after 9/11 are proof that humanity is capable of so much greatness that, unfortunately, is rarely observed.

I would like to think that the world is still different in some fundamental way than it was on 9/11. In the 10 years that have passed, I would like to think that the lasting legacy of those who died in the towers, or on Flight 93, or at the Pentagon, is a better understanding of proper humility and the requirement for us to demonstrate decency to everyone, regardless of nationality, race or creed. I’ll leave it to you, and to a debate for another date, to decide if we’ve learned that lesson or not. My heart goes out to the families of those who died on 9/11 in New York, and the civilians who have died since in Afghanistan and Iraq. When I think of all the bloodshed on both sides of the illusory moral divide that I have witnessed in my lifetime, the following quote comes to mind:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.” ~Dwight D. Eisenhower, speech, American Society of Newspaper Editors, 16 April 1953

I sincerely hope that in another 10 years’ time we will have grown even more as people, so that the true tribute to the lives lost on September 11th, 2001 can be a greater peace around the world, greater tolerance closer to home, and a global manifestation of the humility and generosity that was demonstrated in those painful days 10 years passed. I think that would be the best reward for the bravery shown by those who died on 9/11, and the least we could all do.

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