Thursday, September 09, 2021

Remembering 9/11 with an editorial written the day after

This week, it seems that the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is being remembered by most newspapers, even weeklies that pay little attention to national affairs. 9/11 was an event that defied geography and made Americans rural and urban think a little more about what they had in common. Many of this week's 9/11 stories and editorials are interviews and reflections about that day, but most of them likely pale in comparison to writings done the day after, when feelings were raw and confused but retain the immediacy that makes us re-appreciate the significance of those events and their aftermath. Here is an editorial written on 9/12/01 and published on 9/13/01 by The Canadian Record of Canadian, Texas.

By Laurie Ezzell Brown    

    THE STACK OF LAST WEEK’S newspapers is abandoned on my living room floor, unread during a long weekend away, and unreadable now as this day dawns. I suppose, eventually, I will throw them away, knowing that the news they report is not just old—it is at best, absurdly imprecise, and at its worst, simply no longer true. The world today is a different place, and we have changed along with it.
    Whether or not we have discovered all of the sharp new edges—the fresh, jagged scar where life has fallen away from us—our own personal geography has changed. The ocean is no longer where it was. The coastlines to the east, and to the west, now join in the center—in the heartland, as we have called it, in other perilous times. The continents have moved closer in the seismic shift that hatred has caused.
    The angle of light has changed, ever so slightly. It shines eerily where it once did not, could not. It shines darkly. Ashen clouds are now part of the skyline. They have formed a layer between us and the rest of the universe, whose existence we are now prone sometimes to doubt.
    Our thoughts change shape and are re-formed constantly as each death is named, each horror filmed, each sorrow spoken. Certainty escapes us, now when we most need it.
    Our words collapse—hollowed out from the intense heat and impact of what we are feeling. Words crumble—they disintegrate, really, all air and ash and no longer what they once were. We have scraps of words, scraps of knowledge, but their true substance is lost. The wind blows them lightly away.
    We are part of the wreckage. We will comb through the debris of what we believed, or thought we knew, hoping that something has survived. And we will celebrate the heart that still beats, the pulse that still races, knowing there is no real measure of the life that was lost.
    From the rubble and ruin, voices cry out in anger and pain. Those are our voices. We are the victims and the witnesses. There is this sudden need to tell these stories, to commit this history to raging memory.
    But we are also the terrorists. We, too, seethe with hatred, like any true believer who has identified an enemy who does not believe as we do, or look like we look, or value those things that we hold most dear, or speak the same language. We, too, tear other’s lives apart with our intolerance and impatience. We, too, act with too little thought, or fail to act, allowing others’ actions to speak for us.
    We, too, believe we can mask our fear and strike out at those we fail to understand. We, too, believe one violent act justifies another, even greater one. We, too, long for vengeance. We, too, are terrorists.
    Today, when we revile the inhumanity of others, we must seek out our own humanity. How much more courage must it take to go into the wreckage, to seek out life, to face death, to cast off fear?
    We watch on television, unable even to comprehend the self-sacrifice of those who put themselves in harm’s way to save others’ lives. In every slumped shoulder we see the exhaustion of rescue workers, who sleep briefly and uneasily at the edge of mayhem before venturing back inside. We hear the voice of the narrator break, feel the clinched fear of the firefighter facing what others reasonably flee.
    These are our heroes—those who seek evidence of life at its outer margins. They are a remarkable affirmation of our dependence on, our responsibility to, each other.
    It is difficult to remember our lives two days ago when, as one writer said, “We lived on the other side of history’s rift.” But we who are able must remember those lives. We should fill our lungs with air, take a deep breath, and learn now the lessons that history will inevitably write, and has written many times before.
    We should commit ourselves to the greatest act of anti-terrorism by accepting the challenge to be ever more mindful of our lives, and how precious they are.
    On September 1, 1939, Hitler’s army invaded Poland. W.H. Auden wrote these words:
    Defenceless under the night
    Our world in stupor lies:
    Yet, dotted everywhere, Ironic points of light,
    Flash out wherever the Just
    Exchange their messages:
    May I, composed like them
    Of Eros and of dust,
    Beleaguered by the same
    Negation and despair,
    Show an affirming flame.

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