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Published: Sunday, 9/11/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

9/11: America looks back, forges ahead

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

An American flag flies over the rubble of the collapsed World Trade Center buildings in New York in this Sept. 13, 2001, file photo. An American flag flies over the rubble of the collapsed World Trade Center buildings in New York in this Sept. 13, 2001, file photo.
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Ten years later it still doesn't make sense.

Passenger jets slicing through a beautiful blue late-summer morning and hurtling into the World Trade Center, plowing into the Pentagon, and falling to earth in a Pennsylvania field. Two of the most recognizable symbols of commerce buckling and tumbling to the ground like broken toys. Everyday folks on a place transforming into heroes and sacrificing their own lives so that others would survive the day.

The people who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, were accountants and secretaries, firefighters and police officers, IT workers, janitors, and soldiers. They were husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, children and grandparents, uncles and aunts, and lovers and friends, all going about their days exactly like the rest of us, reveling in the mudnade sense of purpose that we take for granted until we see it snatched away from someone else.

One minute you're drinking coffee and telling a coworker about your weekend. The next, you're standing at an open window 90 stories over New York, desperately gasping for your last breaths and facing a horrifying choice.

The thought is so sobering and raw and real that those of us who lived through that day -- from the grieving family members to everyone who watched from afar -- will never be the same.

We are scarred and battered, and the event was so big that sometimes it feels like just now we're finally dusting ourselves off as a nation. Since 9/11 there have been two wars that caused the deaths of thousands of Americans, Iraqis, and Afghans. The financial markets collapsed, a recession rocked the economy, and we've become mired in political dysfunction that illustrates just how self-absorbed and short-sighted we've become as a nation.

A person falls from the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York, in this Sept. 11, 2001. file photo. A person falls from the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York, in this Sept. 11, 2001. file photo.
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Remember after 9/11 when politicians from both sides of the aisle vowed to work together? Remember that patriotism was defined in its most basic form as a love of country and a commitment to pulling together in the face of adversity so that we all would be stronger? Remember the firefighters and police officers who waded back into those buildings to try to save lives?

Somehow we seem to have lost all of that good will, which is its own form of tragedy.

The question, 10 years later, still seems to be: Where do we go from here? Do we shrug and think, "Gee, I hope that never happens again …" as we turn away and scream at a linebacker to kill someone on the other team? Do we tune in to our favorite ideologue and nod stupidly when he or she points fingers at the other side and says, "It's all their fault. … "?

Or do we look back at 9/11 and see examples of what we're capable of as individuals and as a nation?

That was a day a handful of brave Americans on United Airlines' Flight 93 pieced together what was going on thousands of feet below them and made the conscious decision to risk everything -- to never see their children or their spouses again or hold a baby or hug a parent -- to prevent more people from dying.

No doubt there were Republicans and Democrats among those who charged the terrorists and no doubt those philosophical divisions were meaningless in those moments.

That was a day hundreds of New York City firefighters and police officers didn't flinch when they were called to do an impossible job -- fight a jet-fuel fire in a burning skyscraper dozens of stories above Manhattan.

As heroic as their actions were, it's a safe bet that none of them thought, "Today, I will be a hero." Instead, they were simply doing their jobs as best they could.

No doubt there were liberals and conservatives among them, men and women who argued about politics and social issues in the engine houses and squad rooms, and no doubt their disagreements were meaningless when those buildings were burning.

Visitors overlook the temporary memorial to Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa. Visitors overlook the temporary memorial to Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa.
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That was a day that across the country millions of people did small things to help the folks suffering in New York, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania. We moved toward the disaster and the family members rather than away from them. In the weeks after 9/11, New Yorkers continued to risk their lives cleaning up the massive mess, and people from all over the country pitched in however they could.

In the midst of that tragedy, our true nature as a nation was revealed. Tapping back into commitment could give us hope that there's a way out of our current mess and provide a road map for handling the inevitable disasters that will occur in the future.

Think of it like this:

Who cares about ideological differences or abstract interpretations of public policy when you just want your husband or wife to walk through that door for the first time in 10 years and tell you it has all been an awful nightmare?

We owe it to those people, we owe it to the thousands who died on Sept. 11, 2001, and we owe it to ourselves to use the anniversary of 9/11 each year to reboot our real patriotism -- not the kind that involves shooting off fireworks while listening to classic rock -- and think about what's best for the country and what's best for our neighbors, not what's necessarily best for ourselves.

Perhaps then it will all start to make sense.

Contact Rod Lockwood at: rlockwood@theblade.com or 419-724-6159.

EBLADE SPECIAL EDITION:

Visit eblade.toledoblade.com to see special coverage of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Press the "S" key on your keyboard to view the section menu, and scroll to "Section Z" to see view 10th anniversary coverage as well as articles from the initial attacks, and the fifth anniversary.

 

RELATED CONTENT:

Timeline: What transpired 10 years ago

Their Names: 2,977 victims killed in terror attacks

 

Construction continues on 1 WTC and 7 WTC, World Financial Center buildings, at Ground Zero in New York City. Construction continues on 1 WTC and 7 WTC, World Financial Center buildings, at Ground Zero in New York City.
McCLATCHEY NEWSPAPERS Enlarge

WORLD TRADE CENTER:

Signs of a city remade emerge at Ground Zero

Woman reflects on close call

Toledo firefighters joined NYC recovery efforts

9/11 memorials springing up in area

Questions abound on health problems from WTC dust

Lower Manhattan rises from the ashes

 

 

PENTAGON:

Pentagon site offers lessons for the living

Servicemen, families come to grips with tragedy of war

 

FLIGHT 93: SHANKSVILLE, PA.

Man recalls recover effort amid trees

Oral histories collected from Shanksville site

Witness, trooper, coroner look back on tragedy

New national memorial honors victims

 

Arlene Miller was a chemist for PPG but took a month's leave after 9/11 to help her husband, Somerset County Coroner Wally Miller, deal with overwhelming tasks ahead. She found helping him to be so rewarding that she became a funeral director. Arlene Miller was a chemist for PPG but took a month's leave after 9/11 to help her husband, Somerset County Coroner Wally Miller, deal with overwhelming tasks ahead. She found helping him to be so rewarding that she became a funeral director.
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REFLECTIONS:

Share your 9/11 story: Where were you when you heard?

Local F-16 pilot recounts orders to shoot down planes

9/11 inspires woman to become funeral director

At 13, attacks delivered jolt of lasting reality

Local artists carry emotional scars of 9/11

Pat Tillman's legacy lives on in those whose lives he touched

Day lives on in movies, music, even comedy

Schedule of media coverage this week

 

SOCIETY 10 YEARS LATER:

Attacks define Bush presidency, keep influencing Obama's

Painful, public role of being victim's family member

Some businesses still feel effects of 9/11 attacks

Acts of terror altered sports landscape

Teachers find 9/11 lessons still evolving

Sense of fear lingers in Oklahoma City

 

Passengers and flight crews walk through the Edward H. McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metro Airport. Passengers and flight crews walk through the Edward H. McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metro Airport.
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SECURITY:

U.S. safer but not safe enough

Americans adapt to tighter security

Post-9/11 terror laws net 35,000 worldwide

'Lone wolf' seen as biggest threat

Powerful NYC police commissioner reinvented

Why didn't al-Qaeda strike again?

 

RELIGION:

Interfaith prayer service held in Toledo to remember victims

Followers of Islam subjected to unfair treatment

Area Muslims strive to counter 'Islamophobia'

Lack of clergy-led prayer at event decried

What has become of hijackers' remains?



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