8:48: Flight 11 crashes into the north face of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, between floors 93 and 99.
I sat alone in my living room, clutching a pillow. Like so many Americans I watched the horrific events of this day snuff out the sunlight of a clear blue morning, taking with it the dreams and promises of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, of friends who shared bits of their lives with co-workers around conference tables, water coolers, elevators, cubicles, hallways, garages, or breakfast tables on the 101st floor. The dust never settled harder, thicker on America’s heart and it ushered in a new awareness marked with a new vocabulary – jihad, hajj, imam, al-Qaida, madrasas, Taliban, Sharia Law... We questioned our values, our faith, our God.
9:03: Flight 175 crashes into the south face of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, banked between floors 77 and 85.
There was no mistaking the act, a deliberate thrust of evil’s sword, deep into the underbelly of innocence. And America roared in pain, disbelief, agony and anger, but in calm resolve. We did not take to the streets in mobs and turmoil. We went quietly to houses of worship, to our jobs and to our families, looking for answers. We stepped forward keeping an eye on the world once we discovered the hate.
There are certain things I like about this time of year. Sunlight begins to lay long on the morning horizon drawing dark finger-like shadows into the woods. By dinnertime the day’s warmth quickly recedes and pools of cool air rise out of the wetlands where cattails stand tall and plump. The summer’s humidity is swept away and everything is cleansed by the fresh air that carries a quiet scent of butternuts, crabapples and wild grapes.
It was a perfect morning. During the past ten years there has not been a crisp clear day when I didn’t look toward the zenith and remember 9/11 and the days following when skies were void of contrails.
9:37: Flight 77 crashes into the western side of the Pentagon
2.2 million men and women wear the US military uniform. They serve again and again in places as remote and desolate as one can get on the face of this cursed earth. But their mission is no less diminished for if free men will not fight who will step up, when and for what?
10:03: United Airlines Flight 93 is crashed by its hijackers and passengers, due to fighting in the cockpit 80 miles (129 km) southeast of Pittsburgh in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
Today, like an old scar—the nasty gash happened so quickly you might forgot how it happened—etched on the surface, it remains tender, red and deep. We touch it to wonder about what could have been and to remind ourselves that on this day we changed. Not because we wanted to, but because forces beyond our borders dictated the change. We took this hard. We took it as an insult. We took it as an attack on the very truths we hold dear. We fought back.
We remember who we were and resolve not to forget. But how many of us remember December 6th, the bombing of Pearl Harbor? Fewer still remember September 2, 1945, when the signing of the Japan’s surrender occurred.
It isn’t about time or place or citizen. It is about appreciating and defending the very thing that makes us great. But if we forget to honor those who reached a hand through the rubble to pull a stranger to safety or if we forget those who ran toward the buildings only to lose their lives in a situation that looked hopeless, we leave ourselves vulnerable to those who will take advantage of our apathy.
9:59: The South Tower of the World Trade Center begins to collapse.
The day after 9/11 I hiked the trails on House Mountain. Just like the previous day, I was alone. I had a running dialogue in my head. It seemed logical to speak with bin Laden, a man I knew I could kill if given a chance. A bold and brave proposition, yes. One borne with hate. I asked God to forgive me for such vile thoughts, but I never denied them either. I resolved to never apologize for who I am. A Christian, yes. But so much more passion emotes in being an American.
Oddly I found myself alone on so many of the September 11th anniversaries that being alone on this day has become my tradition. On the first anniversary, I hiked to the top of the Chimneys in the Smokies and waited for daylight to reach me on my perch. Only the September 11th after I joined the Peace Corps was I not alone. That day with a fellow volunteer, I went to the US embassy in Micronesia to place a mwarmwar near the United States flag pole. With it was a letter to those who lost it all on that day.
10:28: The North Tower of the World Trade Center begins to collapse.
The sun broke the tree tops near the ravine’s waterfalls. Perfect. The recent tropical storms of the past two weeks left the kill running hard over the slick black rocks. The roar deafened the sounds of cars that made the looping curve down the mountain side. I could no longer hear the crickets in the grasses or the songs of the birds that flittered under the hemlocks. I waited for the emotions of ten years to rise. The hatred is no longer there for the man is dead, but the sorrow is still there. Still strong.
The spray dampened my face and mingled with my tears. Alone again, naturally. And a prayer that God hold America, bless her. 180 miles south in New York City the families of those who lost their loved ones gathered near the memorial falls on the footprints of the two great buildings that had buckled and fallen ten years ago. They touched the names carved in stone. It will take 1000 years to erode the memory.
One nation, under God, we remain indivisible.