My, mother, eyes glued to CNN all day, phoned me every five minutes with some new report, some new threat—some of them real, some born of the chaos surrounding us. I met with great skepticism her stunned mid-morning call to tell me that the first tower had collapsed. And by the time I’d relayed the news to a colleague, the second tower was doing the same. At that point, all pretense of work vanished as every television in the entire building was turned on, as they were in every corner of the stunned nation.
The planes, flying silently, as if carried on the wind in a cloudless sky, drawing ever nearer the first tower: that’s the image—the still unnerving image—that stays with me even today, 10 years later. My eyes still, almost involuntarily scan the sky when I hear a plane that sounds too loud—too low. Is that plane off course? Is it banking weirdly? That’s not a typical flight path to O’Hare Airport is it? Will that plane flying overhead suddenly drop like a bomb out of the sky? Planes.
The smoke and fire: people trying to outrun the enormous cloud of debris after the towers fell. The impact of the planes: the bright orange as they hit; the gaping holes left in the white of the skyscraping towers. The twisted steel: more horrific than any disaster movie might have wrought. The Pentagon: a gaping hole in the most prominent symbol of our American military might. Images. Horrific images.
But then there was the heroism on that day and the days to follow: the bravery, the sense that we were for the first time in many years, a people united. First responders carried the dead and dying on their backs: firemen, policemen, just ordinary citizens who only wanted to help—acts of remarkable bravery as they entered into the maelstrom and chaos of the smoldering rubble. They became our national heroes: a symbol of the best in us, who we aspire to be.
Those images are equally compelling and, perhaps, in the end, more important, especially now when we seem once again so fractured, so petty, so mean. And perhaps those are the images to embrace and hold onto as the years pass and the other images fade into the archive of our collective memory.