For as long as I can remember I’ve written a blog post about 9/11. Some years I’ve flown on 9/11, other times I’ve recalled the memories of that day while surrounded by loved ones. As I sit here on a rainy morning more than two decades after one of the most impactful days of my life, my thoughts are focused on the hope that sprung up in the days and months that followed 9/11.
The day itself, and many afterwards, were dark days. We were excused from work that morning and sat at home watching the television. In so many ways, what we watched didn’t seem real. And, there were questions. So many questions. How could we be attacked in such a way? Would commercial planes every fly again? What will our world look like? Will they attack again?
Quickly, and at first quietly, hope filled small gaps of our thinking. I can’t say we were in a bad place as a country in 2001, at least not compared to the divisiveness our country seems to face today. But, we were far from a nation divided. Heck, the Supreme Court had just gotten finished deciding who our president was. Prior to 9/11, we were far from a united nation. But, amongst the horror of that day were the seeds of hope.
I was living in the suburbs of DC at the time but I still considered myself a New Yorker. After all, I spent the first 2+ decades calling it my home. I had a trip scheduled to New York for early November, two months after the towers came down. I honestly don’t recall how I got to NYC back then, but I imagine it was by train. Flying was still quite a daunting task for some time after 9/11.
My first memories of that trip were of how quiet it was as I got off a subway and climbed the stairs near the World Trade Center. While it was early in the morning, I’d never seen New York really go to sleep. Every business I walked by was shuttered. Massive power cords were draped over sidewalks snaking to the recovery site. As I turned a corner closer to Ground Zero, a family was standing in front of their restaurant selling New York memorabilia. Their business had disappeared overnight but they remained undeterred in their attempt to earn a living and provide for their family.
Closer to Ground Zero, not far from where American Express called home at the time, was an impromptu memorial filled with an incredible amount of flowers and other keepsake items. Hundreds of people streamed through the area as I stood observing, virtually none of them making a sound. Many of them left flowers. As well, many knelt and prayed. Decades later, those moments stick in my head as a powerful memory of the hope a fragile nation had.
Amidst the backdrop of a NY World Series, sports helped our world return to some level of normalcy. Hundreds of fundraisers popped up in the months after 9/11, raising money for families of brave first responders who would never come home to tuck their kids in again. Time after time there were examples of people setting aside their differences to unite behind a common goal. And, in the months and years that followed, we built memorials to those who lost their lives as a result of the darkest day I can recall in my lifetime.
Seven years ago my family visited the Flight 93 Memorial. My son was only five years old, our daughter closing in on 10. That was one of the first times I believe my kids saw me openly weep, overcome by the flood of emotions as I walked into the building. But, that journey in and of itself was representative of the hope I believe we all had after 9/11. I didn’t have children on September 11, 2001. Heck, I wasn’t even married. On that day, I was just scared. Over the days and months ahead, I came to realize that we’d get past the horrors of 9/11.
We did find our way past it, and we grew closer as a country in many ways as a result of that devastation. That’s a bit hard to believe when I look around at where we stand today as a nation. And yet, it’s true. In those darkest days, we found a way to forge ahead as a nation. We built memorials to those who lost their lives that day. We picked up the pieces, helped support their families. And, we found a way to live our lives again.
Twenty-one years later, we have a daughter thinking about college. Our son wants to visit a mall that stands not far from where the twin towers used to dominate the skyline so he can have a burger from one of his boyhood idols. They know about 9/11 but it doesn’t shape their lives, nor are they afraid to get on an airplane. Neither of them lives in fear, one of the clearest signs of the hope that began to grow in the days after those attacks.
I don’t know that I’ll ever shake the impact September 11th has on me each year. Tears form in my eyes once again this year as the words flow freely on my computer screen. Across the room a portrait of New York with the towers in the skyline hangs on our wall, a memory from a time when I didn’t think such a tragedy could happen to us, on our soil.
Rain drops bounce off the window beside me while I hear my son playing video games in the other room. Our teenage daughter is still sleeping while my wife is working. It’s a typical, quiet Sunday. I struggle to find the perfect words to summarize my thoughts. My eyes are once again drawn to the portrait of the towers on our wall. I think about children so similar to my own that don’t wake up with mom or dad because they didn’t come home that day.