The 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is generating a lot of conversations these days, random inquiries from all angles like "Where were you when you heard the news?" and "How did it affect your life?" and "Do you think it could happen again?" and so on.
Our answers are as varied as we are. I was carpooling kids to school and heard something strange on the radio. Like millions of other American, I went home, switched on the TV and, over the course of the next few hours, didn't leave. Couldn't leave. The spectacle unfolded like a slow-motion horror film.
When the second plane hit the second tower, our innocence bled away. Up to that point, we managed to hold onto the belief that this might be a colossal mistake, that somehow this surreal event was unfolding somewhere else and it really wasn't intentional, even though the television broadcasters were starting to jump to that conclusion. The garbled, bewildering announcements of another plane plowing into a Pennsylvanian cornfield and yet another crashing into the Pentagon still didn't register, as though our childlike brains wanted to make some sense out of the madness and believe we could still wake up the next day and there'd be a logical explanation for it all.
Then the second plane hit. And we knew. Our country was under attack, and we didn't know what the bad guys looked like, who they were. We were facing sniper fire, and we didn't know which way to turn. All we knew was that something inconceivably evil was going on, and we were in the crosshairs.
Ten years later we're still licking wounds, still trying to make sense of it. And we can't, because when someone sucker punches you and then goes scuttling away into oblivion like a yellow-bellied coward, it's hard to know where to turn your anger. Or sorrow.
So yeah, we've changed. We're trying to be smarter. We're trying to plug up the holes. Take a plane ride if you think otherwise. Millions of people stand in long lines going through ridiculous but necessary calisthenics every day to preserve the hazy belief that flying is still a safe way to travel. Carry a backpack into a concert, or a large purse into a government building and you'd better be ready for a scan. That's just the way we live now.
So, how did it affect my life? After a couple of shell-shocked days, I pulled out the vacation photos from my family's visit to Manhattan a few years before 2001. We spent 10 glorious days in an apartment on the border of Central Park, visiting every venue we could cram into our schedule.
Grimly I studied the photos we took from the visitor's platform atop of one of the Twin Towers. It overlooked the acres of gigantic buildings of that metropolis, so alien to this non-citified gal. "Concrete canyons" my kids called them. From the Staten Island Ferry, from Battery Park, from the Statue of Liberty's crown we beheld the stunning skyline. I stared at the photos of the kids taken on the ferry. My goal that day was to get their smiles. But behind them is a perfect Manhattan skyline, complete with two tall towers now no longer there.
But if that's where the memories end, we've missed the point. Because after the attack, I also remember hanging out my flag every day for weeks. I remember a fierce pride in my country stirring inside me, something I hadn't felt in a while. I recall songs and plays and programs about this country and its great ability to recover. This country's history is one long record of recoveries. It's what we do. We're survivors who know how to roll and get up again.
This 10th anniversary reminds me I need to repent. I've become too complacent, too easily annoyed by petty politics. That distraction carves into my loyalty to this country, but I shouldn't let it. Instead, I should pay more attention. Volunteer more. Pray more for my country. And participate. Be proactive, not reactive. Be part of the solution, not the problem. We have plenty of those, for sure. But I think I stand with a vast majority when I declare that, despite all its challenges, I'd still rather live in this country than any other place on earth.
We got battered, but not beaten. The best response to that is to get back up, shake off the dust, and get on with a life well lived. It's a freedom we must never give up.
You can contact D. Louise Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her editor at 801-625-4223.