Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of what many could conceivably say is the darkest day in American History eclipsing even Pearl Harbor as the deadliest attack on civilians by foreign criminals in an act of war on American soil.
Almost three thousand people lost their lives that morning in the heinous, cowardly attacks on two of our tallest office buildings, in the Pentagon the center of our nation's defense and finally on a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
For those of us who are old enough to remember the feel of September 11, 2001, it changed our world. We went from being a carefree, secure, invulnerable nation in a matter of hours to a humbled, grieving union of people concerned for others who were suddenly vaporized in two massive explosions followed by the crashing down of a national treasure. Not since Pearl Harbor did a generation know the fear that comes with massive attacks by an enemy. What was worse is when Pearl Harbor was bombed, we knew immediately who was responsible, but in those first few hours on that sunny morning, no one knew what was happening. Were we at war? With whom? Why?
When the White House and Capitol were evacuated and our leaders spirited to underground bunkers we knew that things were never going to be the same. Later we learned that those first four planes were part of a much larger plan that was thwarted. For the first time since the dawn of commercial flight, the air was silenced. Our entire commercial fleet of planes was grounded for almost a week while solitary F-16's crisscrossed the coasts of our country and over our infrastructure.
I remember standing outside and marveling at the sky usually dancing with the blinking lights of aircraft but now still with just the stars glowing constantly like they have done for billions of years.
We may never see that sight again and while it was a stark reminder of our nation's tragedy it was also a look at a sky that no one on this planet who is alive today has ever seen since humanity took to the air.
Do you remember the afternoon when Congress placed aside their petty squabbles and stood on the steps of the Capitol and defiantly sang "God Bless America" to those faceless enemies? As much as this nation attempts to be a melting pot for all people, it should be remembered even in the attacks against her, that the majority of this country believes in a higher power, a God which no matter what name is used is above us. This country's founders did not intend for its people to be Godless but rather to be able to choose how to worship free of the government's dictation of a particular religion and while atheists may fight it, the leaders of this country still remember this principle correctly and they showed it on that day.
Today's children live in a world changed by September 11, 2001 in ways that are far reaching and most likely permanent. They will never experience the freedom we once had to walk into an airport, through a metal detector and board a plane within five minutes. They will never cross into Canada with just a driver's license. They will never see those original rectangular twin buildings glistening in the sun as you approach Manhattan from Newark. Of course they will see the new ones, but those originals are now a memory.
Perhaps some of the changes of September 11th are akin to the changes that took place when President Harry S. Truman took the bold steps to end World War II by ushering in the Atomic Age with the twin atomic bombs that annihilated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While it saved thousands of lives and ended the destructive world war, those bombs created a new era of fear lasting until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Children crouched uselessly under desks in drills during the Cold War while adults and teachers knew that if that bomb ever came, the whole drill was an exercise of futility. Since that day in 1945, we have all lived with the awareness that we could be destroyed within an hour by someone with a nuclear bomb. While the daily fear eased twenty years ago, the events on September 11th brought home to us no one is ever completely safe.
What did I learn from September 11th, 2001. Never take anyone for granted. Don't spend your time fighting over trivial matters with the people you love. Accept them with their faults. I learned life is precious and we only have that which is in the moment. The past is forever lost to us and no one guarantees us tomorrow will ever come. It only takes an instant for the world to end so we should live our lives to the fullest.
I learned that there are heroes among us and that our character is shaped by the steps we take daily. Take the time to thank the police, the firemen, the health care professionals and especially each and every person in the military or in service to this nation. They are the people who diligently work to ensure that you and I can lay our head on that pillow every night and know in the morning there is another day. They are the people who rush toward the scene of tragedy and will lay down their lives without question.
Most important I learned that we are all intertwined and the loss of one human especially an innocent person affects us all and that the loss of almost three thousand was heart wrenching. It was made even worse when one learns that a friend and colleague was one of those souls. We will always remember you Bill Sugra, my friend and colleague on this tenth anniversary of our loss.
And someday we will see each other again.
Til next time …