It’s been 20 years today, and I still remember everything like it was yesterday. In honor of the fallen, and the ones left behind, I’m offering up a column I wrote for The Times Leader on the one-year anniversary of 9/11 to pay homage to those who perished, to those who survived, and to the families and friends of the victims. Their loss is my loss. Their pain is my pain. Their hope is my hope:
“I told my editor I wanted to write my own reflections about the one-year anniversary of 9/11, but since making that commitment I have been struggling to find my voice. To a writer, words are flesh and bone. They are a living, breathing entity born of muscle, fiber and sinew that join together to create something singular and enriching. When words fail a writer, as they fail me now, the silence is deafening.
The truth is I don’t know what to say; don’t know what to feel; can’t possibly understand the depths of sorrow and pain so many have been forced to scale since terrorists crashed American planes into American buildings and took the lives of more than 3,000. They were America’s fathers, its sons, its daughters, its mothers. Collectively, I feel the grief of a nation, but having been spared the agony of losing a loved one in the World Trade center, or in the Pentagon, or in the hallowed ground near a small Pennsylvania town, I cannot begin to feel the true measure of sorrow that continues to engulf so many.
And so, I ask myself what is it I can possibly offer? What words of comfort or reflection can I possibly add that would be anything but inconsequential? I keep coming back to a poem I wrote many years ago about a mother dealing with the death of her young child. It is in this poem that the seeds of grief are sown, and with it the all-consuming guilt that comes from having been the one to survive:
She stands still, palms pressed against the glass door
feels the warmth against the cold of her hands
Outside the wind whips particles of sand
and waves break in silence along the shore.
The house no longer breathes, she can’t restore
that slender thread, that brittle cord
and the child whose very being did command
laughter and light in a place she now mourns.
Mixing sand and surf, a muffled sound
Submerged, tiny fingers grasping at air
One faithless, fateful moment when he drowned
and she along with him, swallowed in grief
spiraling downward, sanity swept beneath
and the waves break screaming, leaving her bare.
How do we reclaim the exquisite joy of living in the wake of so much death and destruction? The truth is I feel guilty that I have been able to move on from that day while others remain frozen in time; that I was spared what others have been forced to endure. I resist the chance to fully heal, as if by letting go of the grief I am letting go of the ones who were lost. The truth is I worry that I will forget – not the carnage; not the names or the faces of those who died and are forever burned into my soul, but the vows that I made to myself in the minutes, hours and days following 9/11 to live each moment fully and with passion. I worry that I will allow time to soften the memory, to blur the edges of my commitment to a life more loving and humane; that I will fail to weather the difficult moments with grace and benevolence; that I will lose sight of what truly matters as the world slowly, inescapably returns to “normal.”
A year has passed. September has gone and come back around again, and we are face-to-face with what has never left us that faithless, fateful moment. That we have come so far in the wake of such devastation is a testament to our allegiance, our strength, our resilience. Bloodied, but not broken; humbled but not bowed, America continues to crawl her way out of the ash and debris. This is the knowledge that steels me; that fortifies my feet of clay; that picks me up when I stumble and lose sight of the promise I made to myself as I watched the towers burning. This is the lesson I offer up in honor of those who have fallen. I offer this in gratitude. I offer this in love.”