Editorial: A painful day that reminded us Americans who we are

  • Visitors look at the waterfalls at the World Trade Center Memorial in New York City.

    Visitors look at the waterfalls at the World Trade Center Memorial in New York City. Associated Press File Photo

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 9/11/2019 1:55 PM

Things change. In 1959, a United States satellite provided the first photographs of Earth from space; the U.S.S.R. deliberately crash landed a spacecraft on the moon. Americans were asking, "Why can't Johnny read?" and reading "Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care." The world was very different, in makeup and in spirit, from Dec. 7, 1941,

In like manner, so much is different today from Sept. 11, 2001. Who then would have imagined the iPhone 11 that Apple launched this week, advancing a technology that has put the world -- and outer space as well -- at the fingertips of any high school student. Who would have imagined Google or YouTube or Instagram, Tumblr or Snapchat, all household names today? Many of the architects of our social transformation were barely grade schoolers when terrorists attacked our nation at New York City. What must they think when they stand by the streaming waterfalls at 1 and 2 World Trade Center in Manhattan and read the names stenciled into the metal around their rims?


For many of us who were adults on that horrific day, the memory of the towers falling is as vivid as ever. As is the memory of its aftermath, a time when we called friends and family to check on their well-being. A time when we sang "God Bless America" arm in arm at baseball games and thronged to prayer services in our town squares. A time when it seemed impertinent not at least to respect the motives, if not to support all the actions, of a president who had barely won a disputed election 10 months earlier. A time when the notion of political blame would be set aside for some later discussion.

When, marking the 18th year since the act that has come to be known worldwide as simply 9/11, we reflect on that time, we hover over the differences.

They are not just in the realms of commerce and science or the books we read. They are also in the nature of how we interact with each other. We wonder: If our country were attacked today, would we all come together as one again? Or, would we huddle together in clusters with like-minded allies who heel to the same cable news channel we watch?

There are many important things to remember on this day. In 2019, the answer to this question must surely weigh heavy among them. 9/11 was an attack on Republicans and Democrats alike; on elites and commoners; on scientists and climate deniers; on Catholics and Muslims and evangelicals and Jews and atheists and people who don't think about religion all that much; on Americans.

Things change. But not all things have to. It is good that we get beyond the awful dread of that sunny September day so long ago. It is good that we continue to transform our world and learn how to live in the transformation. But there is some ray of light from that time so long ago we ought not allow to blink out.

We don't necessarily need to be swaying with heads bowed at a candlelight vigil. We don't have to seek out veterans to surround and applaud at a town hall. We don't have to stand idly by as though we respect every act or statement someone among us may produce. But we bet that if each of us looks deep into our own heart, we all know we can be better than we are. We can do better than we do. That is a lesson of 9/11 we should think more on. That day, as horrible and heartbreaking as it was, showed we can be and we can do better, if only for a short time.

So, if for a short time, why not longer? And maybe a little longer than that. Let's hope we never have cause to repeat the experiences of Sept. 11, 2001, but, as we commemorate the date today, let's also hope we never lose that spirit it revived that reminded us of who we are.

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