Thursday, September 10, 2009

September 11th – The Year After

With all the current political strife, in the midst of the recession, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that we Americans, when united, are the most formidable force on the planet. Americans are the "sleeping giant" the Japanese awoke in 1941, and less than four years later we had routed both the Nazi regime and Imperial Japanese forces from their positions of power. We are, however, a people easily divided when we don't have a common enemy. The speed with which the partisan politics returned after the attacks on 9/11/2001, and the huge ideological divide currently reigning supreme in our land illustrates that sad fact.

On the first anniversary of 9/11, I felt a compulsion to talk to my team at work about what 9/11 meant to me. I composed a note that I emailed to them, and one of my team mates was so inspired by the note that he forwarded it to Lewis & Floorwax of 103.5 The Fox (a radio station in Denver, Colorado). The two deejays read the letter on the air, which I thought was remarkable given that I hadn't intended for it to be read to so large an audience. One of their comments was "this guy gets it" – which made me feel an even more remarkable sense of validation that yes, other people shared my worldview. This is one of the reasons I later started The Coyote page.

In 2008, on the eve of the 7th anniversary commemorating these horrible homicide attacks, I was looking for that letter and could not find it, so I reached out to the guy that had been so moved by it in 2002. His response was really humbling…here's an excerpt of his response (emphasis is mine):

"I couldn't find the file on my computer but I had a hardcopy that I keep with me. This was a very important letter to me that you wrote and I want to thank you for it. It means a lot to me."

He keeps a hard copy with him? When I wrote it, I never thought it would affect anyone so deeply, and THAT is why I write my articles and weekly Howls for The Coyote…if I could reach this guy and affect him so deeply, if I can do something positive for one person, then maybe here is a vehicle to reach other people.

In its entirety, here is my original note from 9/11/2002:

     I vividly remember a year ago, on the morning of Sept. 11th [2001], I was getting ready to leave for work. My girlfriend [1] was working from home and was on a conference call in her office. I went in to say goodbye and she put the phone on mute. She told me that one of the guys on her call said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. She asked if I would turn on CNN and see what was going on. When I turned on the TV the same images were on every channel; a churning cloud of smoke billowing out of the top of the lone building. I remember thinking, "where's the other tower?" I thought it must have been obscured by the smoke, or hidden by the tower they were filming. It was just a bad camera angle. I didn't find out until I was in the car on my way to work what I was not ready to believe with my own eyes; that one of the two towers had fallen as a result of what was now obviously a terror attack. Shortly after I arrived at work, the second tower fell. The Pentagon was the site of the third attack, and then flight 93 went down in Pennsylvania. The thoughts that seemed to be on everyone's minds were "Why?" and "How many more are out there?" and "What's next?" We worked through the day and tried to make sense of everything that was going on around us.
     The devastation was incomprehensible. The images of the people in New York, frantically searching for hope, holding up signs with pictures of loved ones who were missing were especially gut wrenching. I went through the first few days after the attacks feeling numb, and then feeling pain and anguish as the stories the survivors told would bring me to the verge of tears. At every turn the sorrow and the grief grew more and more overbearing. I knew that at some point the shock and the disbelief would begin to wear off, but every time I turned on the TV it killed me to see what was happening. Now, as more media coverage turns to the anniversary I am finding that while I am no longer shocked, the grief is still close to the surface.
     Whether you knew someone personally who was in the Trade Center or the Pentagon, or knew someone who knew someone who was there, the odds are you were not more than 1 or 2 degrees of separation away from New York or Washington DC that day. Somehow we all got through it though, each in our own way, at our own pace. We got on with our lives. We've made it through the first year.
     While words have a hard time describing the totality of this tragedy, there were a few things that came out of September 11th that were positive. For a brief while the bickering between our political parties stopped, and our leaders had a united purpose. At a time when we were faced with the worst things humans are capable of, we saw in the actions of the police, fire departments and medical and rescue workers the best that humans are capable of. There has also been a lasting sense of patriotism that is still going strong, at least among the citizenry if not the politicians.
     I attended the opening ceremonies of the Highland Games in Estes Park this past weekend. As part of the ceremony they played the National Anthem, and I don't recall ever hearing a crowd sing it so loud. The piper bands played "Amazing Grace" in honor of those who died in the attacks. There is no more sorrowful sound than bagpipes playing that song, and many people began to openly weep. It really hit home to me just how deeply the attacks still are affecting people. Our society has been scarred by these events, and while they took place a full year ago, at times it seems to me that it was yesterday, or the day before. There are many days and weeks since then from which I don't remember anything in specific, but that day is as sharp and clear in my mind as this very moment.
     At the Highland Games opening ceremony, the last speaker was the Commander of NORAD, the North American Air Defense Command center buried deep within Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. He spoke of that day, of the way the staff inside NORAD responded. He echoed the words we have heard from this nation's leaders many times. He said that every citizen of this great land has a duty to live their life, to go to work every day, to attend events like the Highland Games, football and baseball games, to show that the spirit of freedom cannot and will not be put down by cowards who live in caves and murder innocent people. I couldn't agree with him more.
     As the anniversary of the attacks is imminent we have a lot of uncertainty about what may happen. Many rumors and warnings of new attacks are flying about in the media, and certainly there will be a lot of trepidation surrounding the many memorial services. One thing I do know is that the sun will rise tomorrow and I have a job to do. I'm not a policeman, or a fireman, or one of the heroes in uniform actively fighting terrorism half a world away. But I am an American, and I will live like one. I will get up, go to work, and do my job. I play a role in the survival of this country, just like each of you, like everyone you see. I am an American, and no one will take that away from me.
[1] Now my wife.


As I read that last paragraph it becomes very clear to me that this September 11th we are facing a very different level of uncertainty. We have in power a president who relies on radicals, extremists and communists to help advance his ideology and a congress that openly expresses disdain as it looks down upon the people who put them in power in the first place. It occurs to me that there may be someone who CAN take away my right to be an American by ensuring that there is no longer an America that I can respect and love. This may be a tad melodramatic, but each day brings with it a new revelation, a new scandal, a new member of the administration who has dodged taxes, embraced communism, misused the power of taxpayer funded organizations to advance the president's cause, insults our intelligence or completely disregards our opinions. But I am an American, so I will continue to fight for what I believe to be right. I am an American so I will continue to exercise my constitutional right to freedom of expression.
I am an American…but I am not so sure our current leadership wants to keep it that way.

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