Over the past week, there have been numerous ceremonies and observances of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that left over 3,000 civilians dead, with still more dying to this day from the after effects.
Nearly everyone’s 9/11 story is similar in nature. The emotions of shock, horror and fear are mixed with sadness, courage and resolve.
Some of us watched the devastation of that day in person, others watched the event unfold on television. None of us can forget where we were that day, where we were when we heard the news and where we were when the second tower fell.
This past Saturday, Woodhaven residents gathered around the memorial to young men who lost their lives during World War II to remember those lost in a different war, one that started 20 years ago that day.
One by one, residents took the microphone to talk about what they remembered, about what they would never forget. It was a small crowd, and I think almost everyone that gathered that day knew each other, even if just by sight.
Some of the remembrances were gripping and some of the speakers struggled a time or two with their composure. It was interesting to watch those listening to the tales of that day nodding their heads in understanding, other times shaking their heads sadly, again in understanding.
There’s a bit of a bond between the people who lived through that day, a bond of understanding. Though many people were close to the action and truly in danger that day, many of us were never in any immediate danger, miles away from where the dead lay.
But we felt the danger nonetheless. And that’s what terrorism does, it frightens you and makes you change. Terrorism preys on your weaknesses, and your reactions prey on your own strength.
One wish I heard repeated over and over is that we could go back to how we were on 9/12, when we all pulled together, when we were truly united as a collection of people. On that day, people were there for their neighbors and their friends and their family and strangers.
After watching first responders rush towards the danger and stream into buildings they would never leave alive, how could we ask any less of ourselves than to care for our fellow human beings?
It was a beautiful moment of collective unity.
And then came 9/13 and that moment was lost.
Of course, politics was at the center of much of it. If any of you know me, you know my feelings about politics. I’m not talking about politicians, mind you.
But politics, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.”
And the way we have conducted that debate and managed that conflict since 9/13 has been awful. It is no longer enough to just disagree with someone. They are not just wrong, they are evil.
Over the last 20 years social discourse has deteriorated to the point where we have commentators and politicians openly accusing others of murdering people intentionally. We no longer even blink when we hear these accusations.
This has become normal. And we are bombarded by hateful and reckless speech nonstop, on cable television on Twitter and on Facebook, where the people lobbing these verbal bombs are your friends and family.
How many friendships have ended over political disagreements? How many family gatherings have been made uncomfortable by political squabbles on Facebook?
And this has, tragically, poisoned our political class and polarized them in ways the architects of 9/11 could never have even dreamed of.
For example, we just experienced a worldwide pandemic. Due to 21st century living, the challenges of an airborne virus were bound to be unprecedented. Mistakes would be made and hopefully we would learn from those mistakes.
But will we? Do you think it’s even possible for us to come together and have an honest accounting on what we got right and what we got wrong? Every attempt at said discussion would be every bit as polarized as our politics.
Our side’s decisions were saintly. Your side wanted people to die.
Twenty years after the worst day that most of us can remember, we owed the victims of 9/11 a much better legacy. On that count, we have failed them.