Tomorrow it will be five years since that deceivingly beautiful day when jet planes and tall buildings went from objects of awe to symbols of tragedy. I have never been able to look at a plane in the sky the same way, and I do have trouble staring up at tall buildings and not thinking about 9/11. Living in New York doesn’t make things any easier, especially in Queens where there are two airports and a rather spectacular view of Manhattan. Thus, not a day goes by that I am not reminded of that horrific day, nor does a night go by that I do not face the possibility of disturbing dreams.
For those people who have said to me (or to members of my family) “It is a long time now; you really ought to get over it” or something inconsiderate like that, I can only say that I don’t think it’s something we can get over. My sister lost a good man that day, a fire lieutenant who led his men up the stairs in the South Tower while civilians were streaming down them. Steve was an integral part of our family, more beloved than any of us told him in life, and we have to live with that as part of our grief. The truth is that I always admired and respected what he did for a living, but I never could find the words to tell him that. Now, I have to deal with that along with all my other feelings that seem like they will never go away.
After five years my sister has “moved on” as some people might say, but I can see in her eyes and hear in her voice that is more of a mechanism to survive, less defensive than offensive, and I know she sheds her tears in private and deals with a monumental grief that just does not enable one to “get over it.” There is only the hope of tomorrow being another day, still knowing that within three hundred and sixty five days September 11 will have to be faced again, as if she is not dealing with it all the other days of the year anyway.
Still, this day must be remembered with reverence and never forgotten. People I know sometimes talk about Pearl Harbor in the same breath as 9/11. My father, who enlisted in the Army right after December 7, 1941, and fought in Europe during WWII, sees many similarities in the two attacks, but as a patriotic old guy he also sees vast differences in how our country responded to them.
Of course, his generation gave so very much in a battle for the survival of the free world. It is understandable for him to believe that Americans are not facing up to the 9/11 attacks in a similar fashion. He points to people complaining about gas prices being so high now as a prime example, because in his time there was rationing and sometimes one could not even find gas to put in the car. People didn’t like that but understood it was part of their sacrifice for the war effort.
While the nature of the sneak attacks is similar, there are differences to be found that can be argued about and cause people to get very angry. I don’t feel any compulsion to go into the matter here, but let it suffice to say that what has happened in the five years since 9/11 is obviously very different than what happened in the five years after Pearl Harbor. After WWII, people rejoiced in the streets on VE and VJ Day and there was a sense of definite victory and peace and security once the war was over.
Unfortunately, now all this time after 9/11 there is neither peace or security for the American people. While we seem relatively safe at home, most Americans (myself included) believe that another attack on our homeland is coming. I can honestly say that is one of the reasons I can’t look at airplanes or tall buildings without trepidation, and even riding a subway or a bus is not without its frightening moments after what we’ve seen in Madrid and London.
Still, after five years, we must pay homage to those lost, never forget what happened on 9/11, and care for those who are survivors. Their pain and suffering never go away. There are also those first responders, people who risked their lives at Ground Zero to help dig for victims in the smoldering debris. Now they face a barrage of health problems and seem to be getting little or no help from those in power. This is more than a terrible situation; it is a disgrace. Any person who worked at Ground Zero (or who volunteered) should have every cent of his or her health care covered by the government. Anything less is a travesty.
As I look at the pit where the World Trade Center once towered into the sky, I feel a sense of revulsion and anger. This place is hallowed ground and tourists gawk at it daily, while men are working down there, but the pace seems painfully and almost deliberately slow. I know that there were problems with the plans for the Memorial, the Freedom Tower, and the design of the rest of the 16-acre site, but all of that was political minutiae unworthy of those lost on 9/11.
Maybe I am wrong to want to speed up the process, but I think it’s the only way to get the victims’ families, friends, and co-workers closer to that magical “closure” everyone used to talk about in the weeks and months after 9/11. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you honestly there is no such thing as closure. The book is always opened, and the pages may be turned, but somehow the end is just never any nearer and the story gets longer and longer.
We must honor those lost on 9/11 tomorrow and must do so every year hence, and in doing so we take this generation forward and prepare the next one for its role as keeper of the flame. We Americans must mark this day as sacred and honor those lost for the sake of those who died as much as those who have not yet been born. It is what must be and what must continue to be done, or else when I am my father’s age I might be talking to my children and grandchildren and comparing Pearl Harbor and 9/11 to another attack. Unfortunately, I believe that one could be more devastating than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, and that is more frightening than silver jets in a blue sky on 9/11 or any other day since.