The One Thing

I don’t know what to say about that day, much less what to write about it.

What I do know is this: all of us born before 1990 remember exactly where we were and what we were doing on that awful September day 20 years ago.

I don’t want to add just another layer of profound sadness to that series of events. You don’t have to search hard to read or hear much better and more poignant testimonials.

But as we approach the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorists attacks, I feel compelled to offer my own personal take. I still have a hard time recognizing what really happened and that it is not part of some re-occurring nightmare.

Photo credit:Reuters News

Before 9-11, I could never comprehend that level of evil could exist anywhere. On the flip side of that coin, I had never witnessed such bravery until approximately 9 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

In the blink of an eye, our nation was suddenly galvanized. There was no right or left, liberal or conservative, young or old. We were horrified, but united.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was the editor of the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier, and Tuesdays were our weekly deadline day. It was always a bit tense and chaotic in the newsroom, trying to decide what would be on the front page (and all the other pages).

Just a few minutes before 9 a.m., my phone rang. It was a friend who told me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I quickly brushed her off, I was much too busy to worry about some small plane accident in New York City. I dismissed the news as probably a pilot having a heart-attack in a small plane.

A few minutes later. My friend called again. I was annoyed by the interruption. She told me that another plane had flown directly into the second tower.

For just a moment, I wanted to believe that it was another small plane that was caught up in the smoke. Then she told me: “No, these were big planes, passenger jets.” Both towers were now burning.

And just like that, our front page was scrapped. Things would never be the same. I quickly walked down the street to Mulligan’s so I could see a television. One of the bar patrons told me: “There’s going to be hell to pay for this.”

We had our new headline.

Straight. No Chaser.

More than 2,900 people died that day. It is now described as the world’s deadliest terrorist attack. Even now, two decades later, it is still difficult to comprehend. I recall seeing people make a god-awful decision: either jump off the tower or burn to death. Our world was forever changed.

A few years ago, Laura and I had the opportunity to visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial Site. We were tourists, accompanied by dozens of other tourists, but you could have heard a pin drop when we arrived at the site, which sits on the water across the bridge of the sunken USS Arizona.

President Franklin Roosevelt described December 7, 1941 as “a day, which will live in infamy.” More than 2,400 people, including 68 civilians, were killed during that horrific surprise attack.

Other than the death toll, I don’t think there is much similarity between 9-11 and December 7, 1941.

Yes, it was a surprise attack. Yes, thousands of people died. But one was an act of war, the other: an act of hatred, pure evil.

Today, our country seems bitterly divided, political parties are polarized and consensus is a rarity.

What will it take to unify our nation, when even the idea of wearing a mask seems to spark such vitriol and anger?

What will it take to put the “united” back into the United States of America? Will it require another tragedy, or can we all try just a bit harder to find some common ground? Will we find the courage within to face the threats of today?

Will it take another horrific disaster to create more heroes and acts of bravery?

I certainly hope not.


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