Never Forgetting

9/11 was the last time we were truly united.

I wrote this ten years ago on 9/11:

Nine years ago today I was a brand new, very young mother. I stood in my living room in my pajamas and watched the horror unfurl on live television, watching the fire, watching the first and then the second tower collapse, watching the Pentagon burn, seeing that a giant rut had been dug into the earth in Pennsylvania. Members of a theocracy had murdered over 3,000 Americans.

They didn’t just bring their war to American soil, they brought it into American living rooms.

In my living room, my six-month-old son played happily upon a blanket on the floor. It was a bizarre dichotomy: here was my innocent son, oblivious to what was happening to the country and his future. Standing over him was his young mother who thought that her biggest concern at this moment of his life would be the pain he felt from immunizations.

I have been political most of my life, only I campaigned for Democrat candidates. I had campaigned for Clinton his second term. At that moment I regretted it all. I had begun a transformation 14 months ago when I became pregnant, a transformation that was completed the moment that I realized, the moment that we all as a country realized what was happening on the morning of 9/11.

I became a conservative.

I saw that there existed in this world a threat bigger than ear infections, a threat bigger than outgrowing clothes so quickly, a threat bigger than anything for which I could have prepared. We can all only speak from our own perspectives this day, and I can say that mine was fundamentally changed, my path in life changed, everything changed.

I have more than one child now. My trajectory has changed. My living room extends beyond the walls of my home. It extends to both coasts, to both the Canadian and Mexican border.

Every year we mark this somber day by remembering the men, women, and children who were murdered by an ideology that abhors freedom, that hates us with a passion greater than we can comprehend simply because we are free men. We remember the men, women, and children who did not ask for war when they simply showed up for work, for appointments, for day care that day. Their lives were politicized by an ideology who sought to burn a mark on our soil. It is our responsibility as a nation to not fall back into a false sense of safety, into apathy, romanticize the past and forget what happened.

That’s the first step to ensuring that it never happens again, in our homes, in this country.

Our prayers are with the families who lost loved ones nine years ago today and also with our country.

This feeling hasn’t changed. Every one of us who lived through 9/11 relive it every year through the perspective of where we were, what we saw, what we felt, and who we were. I think it was the last time our country was truly united. I think a lot of people grieve for that also in their own way every year.

The baby happily playing in my floor at the time is now a college sophomore. This November he will vote in our election for the first time. Four years ago he and his younger brother accompanied me to D.C. for work and after we toured the Smithsonian and the exhibit that now serves as the resting place for some of the World Trade Center wreckage.

Nothing makes you understand Reagan’s quote about freedom than parenthood.

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

This is a remarkable piece of 9/11 journalism about “the falling man”:

In the picture, he departs from this earth like an arrow. Although he has not chosen his fate, he appears to have, in his last instants of life, embraced it. If he were not falling, he might very well be flying. He appears relaxed, hurtling through the air. He appears comfortable in the grip of unimaginable motion. He does not appear intimidated by gravity's divine suction or by what awaits him. His arms are by his side, only slightly outriggered. His left leg is bent at the knee, almost casually. His white shirt, or jacket, or frock, is billowing free of his black pants. His black high-tops are still on his feet. In all the other pictures, the people who did what he did—who jumped—appear to be struggling against horrific discrepancies of scale. They are made puny by the backdrop of the towers, which loom like colossi, and then by the event itself. Some of them are shirtless; their shoes fly off as they flail and fall; they look confused, as though trying to swim down the side of a mountain. The man in the picture, by contrast, is perfectly vertical, and so is in accord with the lines of the buildings behind him. He splits them, bisects them: Everything to the left of him in the picture is the North Tower; everything to the right, the South. Though oblivious to the geometric balance he has achieved, he is the essential element in the creation of a new flag, a banner composed entirely of steel bars shining in the sun

My favorite piece on the aftermath, one that resonated so very much with me, is this by Dan McLaughlin. I have a habit of bringing everything back to LOTR, and he does here also, most brilliantly:

There’s a scene that comes to mind, and I’m placing it in the Lord of the Rings because that’s where I remember it, but feel free to let me know if I’ve mangled it or made it up. Frodo the hobbit has lived all his life in the Shire, where the world of hobbits (short, human-like creatures) revolves around hospitality and particular etiquette and family snobbery and all the silliest little things, silly at least in comparison to the great and dangerous adventure he finds himself embarked on. Aragorn, one of the Men, has been patrolling the area around the Shire for years, warding off invading creatures of all varieties of evil. Frodo asks Aragorn, eventually, whether he isn’t frustrated with and contemptuous of hobbits and the small, simple concerns that dominate their existence, when such dangers are all at hand. Aragorn responds that, to the contrary, it is the simpleness and even the pettiness of the hobbits that makes the task worthwhile, because it’s proof that he has done his job – kept them so safe and insulated from the horrors all around them that they see no irony, no embarrassment in concerning themselves with such trivial things in such a hazardous world. It has often struck me that you could ask no better description of the role of law enforcement and the military, keeping us so safe that we may while our days on the ups and downs of made-up games.

And that’s why baseball still matters. There must be time for mourning, of course, so much mourning, and time as well to feel secure that 55,000 people can gather safely in one place.

We can’t go back to September 10th. We can’t recover the innocence we lost, the naive believe that no one would ever hurt us here. I’m more interested in recovering the unity we had after the haze of the 11th cleared and we occupied ourselves with treating the injured, comforting the grieving, praying, and hanging our flags on our porches. So many flags were sold where were none left in the stores. Regardless the differences between ourselves, they were nothing compared to our differences with an ideology that wanted to kill us for our way of life. They wanted to kills us not because we were Republicans or Democrats, right, left, or center, but because we had the freedom to choose which way to go and forge our own paths.

The years after piled up, like layers of dust on a photograph. We haven’t forgotten the terror, grief, and anger from that attack, but oddly, it’s the unity we felt afterwards that we’ve forgotten. I’m not sure when it happened exactly. Sometimes I wonder if unity was the last life claimed by 9/11 or if we took the life of that unity ourselves.