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.
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.
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: email@example.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.
Construction continues on 1 WTC and 7 WTC, World Financial Center buildings, at Ground Zero in New York City.
FLIGHT 93: SHANKSVILLE, PA.
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.
SOCIETY 10 YEARS LATER:
Passengers and flight crews walk through the Edward H. McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metro Airport.