What a gorgeous and wonderful place. Can you think of any word or image that has ever gone through such a transformation in one year's time the way the word America has since Sept. 11, 2001? I doubt it. In that one year, our country has grown more dear to us and certainly more precious. Can you name anyone who takes the freedoms, privileges or business opportunities we share as Americas for granted today? I doubt it. Perhaps we have all gone through a cultural enlightenment because of the attack on this country, which has let us push aside the issues that distracted us in years past to focus on the things that really matter to us and the future of this country.
Maybe that is why the span of the last 365 days has seemed so much longer than just the passing of another 12 months. It was a year when we witnessed the unthinkable. The unimaginable. Yet, it was also a time when we were witness to so many amazing feats of heroism along with a tremendous surge in patriotism. As the son of a New York City policeman who also served in the Army, I was always patriotic but nothing can compare to the way I feel for this country today. Looking back, it seems like such a hard way for many of us to have renewed our faith in this country or to realize just how much we appreciate our freedom. I wish some other event, less tragic, could have triggered all of this outpouring and efforts to build flagpoles in front yards, hang flags on our cars or come together the way we have over the last year. Leave it to America to turn such a negative event into a positive, congealing force.
Trying to put this all into perspective seems impossible but let me offer some observations in this space because today many of us are participating in public memorials or spending time in private reflection. A large sign was planted in front of my local library just a few days ago. The banner was emblazoned with huge letters that read, "Never Forget." Below that was the time and place of a public memorial service to pay tribute to those who died in the World Trade Center, in the planes that were hijacked and at the Pentagon. But a sign calling us to never forget seems an anachronism at the moment. The horrors of Sept. 11 are still so fresh in our minds and so vivid I doubt we will ever forget. How could we forget? I would rather attend a public discussion where we express our disdain for those al Qaeda members and their allies who declared war on this country and talk about the anger I house toward those who would perpetrate such an act along with the anger I have for those who have escaped our grasp, including the nefarious mastermind Osama bin Laden. I haven't even begun to forget a single moment of what happened on Sept. 11 or how our lives have changed. And I must confess that I remain angry at the evildoers and have little sympathy for the fate that awaits them at the hands of our armed forces.
Looking back on the past year, it seems New Yorkers, of which I am proud to count myself, measured time by a series of events surrounding the efforts to first rescue then recover the nearly 3,000 individuals who were working at the Trade Centers on that fateful Tuesday. It's cliche to say it but time did stand still that day perhaps in the same way it stood still on Dec. 7, 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and killed thousands of civilians and members of the armed forces. Only now can I understand the gravity of such an event as Pearl Harbor that pulled America into World War II. But let's keep in mind the differences between the two events. While Sept. 11 was tragic, I cannot imagine an event more than 100 times its magnitude. Yet many people who lived through Pearl Harbor tell me Sept. 11 affected them more because the attack hit so close to home and because the media today is so pervasive. When I heard that I found the reaction odd given that Pearl Harbor was a prelude to America sacrificing more than 400,000 men and women with more than that number wounded. A loss of that magnitude had to have touched nearly every family in this country in some way just as here in New York, the tragedy of Sept. 11 seemed to touch everyone. We all had friends or acquaintances who were suddenly gone simply because they were going to work that day. One family we are acquainted with lost their father, another close family friend lost his son. Their lives have been altered forever because a group of people stood in judgment of this country and envied the freedoms we have. Remember, the terrorists used our freedoms and turned them against us so maybe we will have to be inconvenienced in the future and have to get by with more scrutiny and less freedom than we once enjoyed. That's a fair trade for safety in my estimation.
Nearly one month after the attack, I was in New York City and went to Ground Zero to see firsthand the devastation. Many peopled debated the merits of visiting the site, but I was glad I made the journey. Ash and soot permeated the air so much that day I had difficulty seeing at times. Business establishments were frozen in a Pompeii-like surrealism that I just cannot erase from my memory. The makeshift memorials that had been built were touching. Candles glowed beneath photos adorned with touching memorials of each individual. People read and wept in public. Some odd tourists took photos in front of the battle scene. Because that is what it was, a battle scene. The scene was mindboggling and one never to forget. Exposed steel girders were bent like pretzels, debris was piled high and smoked surged forth from the crater of the World Trade Center like Old Faithful. While I paced around the grounds with some fellow New Yorkers and out-of-towners I reminisced about all the events--both personal and professional--that I had attended at the trade center. Just a few months before the attack, I had attended a 50th wedding celebration at Windows on the World and remembered sneaking out of the event to walk through all the empty dining rooms so I could catch the magnificent view of New York City. It was a view that is hard to forget.
Just a few days ago, I found myself driving along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway as it winds along the Hudson River across from Manhattan. In the car were my wife, two young children and my 16-year-old niece. My children were excited by the Manhattan skyline and I explained to them that despite its beauty today, there is a huge void in that panoramic view. Their innocence was heartwarming. As my wife and I were talking we realized how the moment was lost on the 16-year-old in the back seat who was intently listening to pop music piped loudly through a set of headphones. I was angry for a moment, then realized that maybe ignorance is bliss for our innocent children. On Sept. 11, 2001, America lost its innocence.
Yet while the attack on America was so devastating there were so many other shocking events that took place you would think we all would be numb by now. Just think about how much wealth was lost as the stock market crashed. We witnessed the collapse of major corporations like Enron and Worldcom that seemed invincible. Their demise also seemed unimaginable just a short time ago. Then we had to deal with the realization the Internet craze was built mostly upon fraud by analysts who had ulterior motives and by bankers who doled out IPO shares to secure business from large customers. My oh my has the business world changed. It also seems that our war against al Qaeda is hard to measure in terms of success. It is apparent that we are making progress and have hopefully clamped down on any further terrorism but it is disappointing the main perpetrator, Osama bin Laden, remains on the loose. Perhaps it is our penchant for immediate gratification that makes us all so uncomfortable, but we must come to the realization that capturing such heinous individuals will not come easily and terrorist activity against us may never really end.
So, in closing, I encourage you to simply do what you want today. Pray. Watch all the television shows recapping the horror or just turn a deaf ear to it all. If it makes you feel better then look for answers as to why certain people hate this country and you. If you are angry, don't struggle with it, there are many like you dealing with such feelings. I remain angry still.
But maybe you can find some solace in a simple message I saw on the T- shirt of New York City Firefighter. It read "All gave some. Some gave all." Truer words were never written.
Let me know what your take is on Sept. 11 at email@example.com. And let's hope God continues to bless America.