Each year at this time I write about 9/11 and remember my friend Frank who was lost in one of the World Trade Towers and reflect on the meaning of that event for where we find ourselves today. This year I find myself numb. I still have absolute clarity of seeing the plane explode into Frank’s building as I watched it unfold live on TV; but too many events over the last year leave me without a clear sense of what that dreadful day means for us now. Here’s why.
While I won’t once more go through my personal history with Frank, I will tell you that he was one of my college roommates, and one of my best friends. In 2001, he had been working at Canter, Fitzgerald, and I feared for his life the moment I saw the plane strike his tower. Soon my worst fears would be confirmed – he had left one last phone message for his wife and parents right before his death. He was gone.
All of us are familiar with the sense of patriotism and connectedness that followed 9/11. But despite all the promises, they have dissipated. They too are gone like the thousands of lives that were lost. What fills the place of those promises now? To what extent can we say that due to the horrors of 9/11 we have moved in a more hopeful direction as a nation? Surely, there are all sorts of signs of progress around us, but now, as I look back on another year since writing my last post on 9/11, the meaning of the loss on that day is cloudy at best.
Our political discourse is uglier than in recent years. We have been groping our way through the Great Recession, with many people clinging to the edge and many others who have fallen off their personal cliff. The War in Iraq has been the longest war in the history of the country, and what has it produced as we seek to wind it down? There seems no end in sight to the War in Afghanistan. Just two years ago the president was seen as an historic figure by people in both political parties and now he fights for his political life. Debates over the Islamic religious center and mosque in New York City and Glenn Beck’s rally in Washington, D.C. only seem to bring out more divisiveness – there is little ability to have true discussions and debates over our differences.
Do not think I am not hopeful. I am especially hopeful when I engage with people about their lives and aspirations. They tell me they face significant challenges, but they are willing to step forward to help create positive change, if only we could find a way to create safe places for people to re-engage and reconnect with one another. They tell me they want to find leaders and organizations they can trust. They tell me they want to join with others to make a difference. Throughout the country, I find small and large groups of individuals and organizations that have banded together to show that progress is still possible. I am hopeful and I have great clarity about that.
But today I am writing about the legacy of 9/11 and what has come of it. I do not see that it has propelled the nation forward in a way that, as Lincoln would say, calls us to our better angels of our nature or that makes us safer. I suspect things will change for the better over time – they must, they will.
But, for now, it is 2001 and I am sitting in my study at home, working on a new book, only to be called on the phone and told to turn on the television. There, I watch as the plane rips the tower. There, I fear my friend Frank has disappeared for good. I can see that. What I would like to see today is for us to put the memory of 9/11 to use to create a better country.