10 Years Later...
It is September 11 once more. Outside, it is raining. It is a light rain, just a drizzle in some areas, just enough to hide the wetness falling from our eyes in the wetness falling from the skies. And we pause, as we have paused every year since 2001, to remember a day when something else fell from the skies.
As has been the case in each of the years since 2001, this anniversary is marked by official remembrances. At the Pentagon, outside Washington D.C., where nearly 200 people died. At Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the courageous passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 sent their hijacked plane into the ground to protect the intended target in the nation's capitol, giving the 40 lives of the passengers and crew instead. At Ground Zero, in lower Manhattan, where more than 3,000 people died, immediately or in the days, weeks, months and even years since.
As has been done every year since 2001, the names of those lost at the Twin Towers will be read aloud again today at Ground Zero, this time by members of the families of the victims. As they have every year since 2001, the readers will pause six times for a moment of silence.
- At 8:46 a.m., the time when a plane piloted by murderous fanatics slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
- At 9:03 a.m., the time when a second plane piloted by even more murderers slammed into the South Tower.
- At 9:37 a.m., the time when a third plane crashed into the Pentagon's west side.
- At 9:59 a.m., the time when the South Tower imploded and fell, raining debris and ash on the city.
- At 10:03 a.m., when yet a fourth plane crashed into a field in the Pennsylvania countryside.
- And at 10:29 a.m., the time when the North Tower fell.
As they have every year since 2001, church bells will ring out across the city to honor those lost. As it has in each of the years since 2001, the tribute of lights, depicted above, will shine into the skies above Ground Zero tonight.
In so many ways, what is going on this year is so like what has gone on each September 11 since 2001.
But in one, oh so very critical way, it is oh so very different.
I have been writing and posting these 9/11 essays every year since 2001. This is the 10th essay I have written. But it is the very first where I have not had to say, in anger and in frustration, that those responsible have not been brought to justice. Thanks to good intelligence, a spectacular team of Navy SEALs, and a President who did not hesitate to pull the trigger when the enemy was in his sights, Osama bin Laden has indeed been brought to justice.
I'm enough of a lawyer that I have to admit I'd have been satisfied seeing him in leg irons and chains, and happy to indulge myself in a fantasy of his experience in an American supermax prison. But I'm also human enough that I have to admit that it is so much more satisfying, at a gut level, to know that he is dead. That he will never again send out another audiotape taunting the United States. That he will never again plan so much of an operation as a trip down the hall, much less an operation designed to kill American citizens. It is soul-satisfying to know that, while the American dead are honored today at physical memorials in New York, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, bin Laden's body was dumped at sea and no-one will ever gather at his gravesite to honor him.
It is so very tempting, this year, to say that we have had enough of grief. To let the physical memorials take the place of the horrific memories of that terrible day. To say that it is time to look forward and not back.
But I made a promise 10 years ago, as I walked with my friend Toni through the streets of lower Manhattan, and stared at the missing posters, and the empty firehouses, and the twisted steel girders. I promised that I would remember. It is time now to fulfill that promise for this year. It is time again to remember. It is time again to open the film cannister into which I brushed some of the dust of Ground Zero, time again to touch that dust with my own hands, and time again to stand witness. To make sure that I do not forget. That we do not forget. That no-one forgets. That all those lives will never be forgotten.
To say, one more time, this year and every year, as long as I have life and breath, in words and images, NEVER FORGET.