Observing 9-11: Remembering the horror, the hell, and the humanity

The following is an editorial I wrote while working for my high-school newspaper on the sixth month anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and plane crash in Pennsylvania. Looking back on this piece and the infamous day it was written for, it seems at once yesterday and a lifetime ago. The world has changed since I wrote this, and so have I.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, two planes on a course of destiny slammed into the two towers of the World Trade center. Safety officials from all over New York were called to help. Some firefighters began to run up the stairs of the first tower, while others waited in the lobby to the thundering sounds of bodies hitting the ground. The testimonial of the various arriving forces showed heated emotion and awkward silences, yet they had one thing in common to say about how they felt and what they saw. What they saw was horrific, what they felt was horror.

Many servicemen and women in the towers died doing their duty. Their death was the final price for their courage, and the ultimate sacrifice for their civic virtue. Those heroes and heroines will never be forgotten.

For many people, September 11 was the longest day of the year. For the surviving families, it was the longest day of their lives. I remember spending the entire school day watching TV, and discussing with my teachers about the day’s events, despite an attempt to concentrate on keeping it a normal day. History was in the making. The teachers knew that this history was no something to ignore.

The day after, September 12, the shock had set in across the country. Citizens awoke to the sounds of their president giving his condolences. Fire still raged at the Pentagon, and new information was forming on a possible fourth hijacking attempt gone wrong in Pennsylvania.

School, at least for me, went on with less discussion and more formal education.

During that time, New York firefighters were bing run out to the wreckage of the two towers for possible rescue operations. The standard shift for one fireman was twenty-four hours. Before, they had described what they were seeing as horrific. Now, they began to describe it as hell. “Hell on earth,” one would say. The silence of the majority told the fireman who spoken that his fellow brothers and friends felt the same way. Everyone was surrounded by wreckage and dust. It was a war zone of steel beams and body parts. Life as they knew it would never be the same.

The gas prices in Vincennes went back down after we had found out that the Middle East was not being bombed. September 11 was the first day of a new chapter in American history. My prayers at the end of the day were that something positive comes out of all this mess.

Then something good did happen. It is hard to not sell your way of life short, since so many destructive, negative things come from it. One has to understand that as a culture of gas-guzzlers who practice a type of totalitarian agriculture, we do not represent humanity as a whole. Our life can result in superficiality, materialism, racism, plague and famine. It is in times of crises that we forgo the trivial matters of social existence and form strong bonds with men and women to triumph as a whole. These bonds of community are one of the positive outcomes of 9-11. Our concern for fellow men and women transcend our personal biases and political motives.

Those victims were human beings, innocent and undeserving of the fate that befell them. It didn’t matter if they were black, white, red or yellow. It didn’t matter if they were follower of Jesus, Muhammad, Abraham, Buddha or any other. It also didn’t matter if they were American, British, French, Japanese, or any other nationality. Whether it was the doctor who saved lives at ground zero of the WTC wreckage, the firemen who worked on the Pentagon, ambulance workers who rushed for possible survivors in Pennsylvania or the private citizen who lost no one but still wept on that terrible day, the human spirit prevailed and was reflected in our mutual compassion and companionship. Humans in our culture waste too much energy on hatred and revenge. Such emotions funnel away the hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow. It is sad that we cannot be satisfied with restitution and the legal consequences of committing a crime. What I saw that day was a crime, not an act of war. Yet war is what we wage, and more people die and suffer. This is the negative consequences of 9-11, even if some think it necessary.

It has only been six months, and people are still mourning enough to not want to reflect on the past. However, tragedy can make minutes seem like years and years seem like yesterday. Reflecting on the past, though, can be a way to find hope for the future.

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