Remembering Our Humanity on 9/11
Do we choose fear over love?
Is it possible to write a column being published on the 10th anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and make it about something completely unrelated to the events of September 11, 2001? Yes, I think so. Would it be wrong? Perhaps. But worse than wrong, to not address the attacks would be a failure on my part as a reporter. Even more, it would be an affront to the 2,977 people who died on that day - not including the 19 hijackers.
In light of the extensive media coverage leading up to today’s anniversary, I promise to be mercifully brief with my comments. There is nothing I can say that will make the slaughter of so many innocent people any more comprehensible or less horrifying than it was 10 years ago. I saw the twin towers of the World Trade Center fall from 3,000 miles away in Las Vegas, where I was working as a reporter for a weekly business paper. I remember on my way to work driving past McCarran International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world, and seeing all the planes grounded on the runway. It remains for me one of the most chilling memories of that day. As I went to turn off the road into the office complex where I worked, a police officer standing in front of a barricade in the middle of the intersection motioned for me to stop. I rolled down my window. He said before I could pass, he would need to see a photo ID. Still numb from the shock, I showed him my driver’s license as though it were the normal thing to do. Of course, normal was over, but it would take more time than a short drive to work for me to realize how far past normal things had gone.
Ten years on, and now I want to talk about a man and a woman. I don’t know their names. I can’t describe them other than they are both white, have brown hair, and each is dressed in work clothes, he in a white dress shirt and pants, she in a blouse and a skirt. I know them only from a few seconds of footage captured by a television news crew filming the Trade Center just after the attacks. The man and the woman are in one of the towers standing in a window as everything around them burns. It’s hard to tell how high up they are, as the camera never pulls back but stays centered on the two people in the window. They are holding hands, looking down at the forgotten world below them.
Turning their heads to face each other, they appear to exchange some words before they stand up straight, staring straight out ahead of them, and jump. Only they don’t jump out of the window, so much as they walk. Each takes one step, as though starting out on a morning stroll, then drops straight down and out of frame.
I heard myself gasp. I could not believe what I had just seen. Ten years on, and I still can’t believe it. In the face of horror, two people who simply went to work that morning attempted one brief and final act of normalcy, to walk outside, rather than burn to death. It was a gesture of courage and grace I won’t forget. I can’t forget. Neither can any of us forget what we saw that day. Nor should we. But let’s not live too much longer with worried eyes always looking over our shoulders, in fear, full of grief and hatred. I realize that seems about impossible these days, especially in light of recent warnings about a possible terrorist attack occurring this very day in the United States. It sounds innocent to the point of banality: “Can’t we all just get along?” Well, no, we can’t. But that doesn’t mean we should continue remembering to forget our basic humanity. We are witnesses to a barbarism born of hatred and intolerance. Do we accept that and move on? Or do we add to the mix? Do we choose fear over love? I don’t know. I’m just a hack columnist. Who am I to tell people how they should treat each other? I can only do my part, and that is by not taking things for granted, simple things, such as taking a walk on a cool autumn day, or holding hands with someone I love. It’s the least I can do.