19 years later...
There was a moment when it appeared that it wouldn't happen.
That, for the first time in all these years, the lights wouldn't shine.
In mid-August, it sure looked like the COVID-19 crisis would cancel the Tribute of Lights: the twin columns of light that help all of us commemorate and remember those lost, 19 years ago today.
When the lights wouldn't shine for the oldest. Robert Grant Norton was 85 years old, a Navy veteran of World War II, on his way to California for a stepson's wedding, a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles.
A plane that -- at 8:46 a.m., exactly 19 years ago today -- was deliberately flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
When the lights wouldn't shine for the youngest victim. She was two-year-old Christine Lee Hanson, a passenger with her parents Peter Burton Hanson and Sue Kim Hanson on United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles.
A plane that -- at 9:03 a.m., exactly 19 years ago today -- was deliberately flown into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
Nineteen years ago today.
September 11, 2001...
None of us -- no-one alive on that day -- will ever forget the events of that morning, 19 years ago today:
- At 8:46 a.m., AA 11 slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
- At 9:03 a.m., UA175 slammed into the South Tower.
- At 9:37 a.m., AA77 crashed into the Pentagon's west side.
- At 9:59 a.m., the South Tower imploded and fell, raining debris and ash on the city.
- At 10:03 a.m., UA93 crashed into a field in the Pennsylvania countryside.
- And at 10:29 a.m., the North Tower collapsed from the top down. A cloud of ash turned day to night in the narrow streets of lower Manhattan.
In those few horrible moments between 8:46 a.m. and 10:29 a.m., nearly 3,000 men, women and children lost their lives to senseless, mindless, blind hatred. So many people -- among them my neighbors, my colleagues, my friends -- wiped from the face of the earth.
Some died instantly, vaporized in the fireballs as the planes struck the World Trade Center towers.
Some died after long agonizing moments of fear and pain as they waited in vain for rescue.
Some died in the corridors and hallways of the Pentagon.
Some died in a determined fight to keep their hijacked plane from being used as yet another weapon of terror.
In the end, all... all were gone.
Gone because of hate.
Those of us who were alive that day remember every moment, as if it were just yesterday.
We remember the fear.
But we also remember how there was a time, just after that day, when so many of us seemed to care more, to reach out more, to consider how very precious are the lives of those we love and how little it might take to lose those people in a blinding flash. We said “I love you” more. We even seemed to mean it more.
And we mourn the loss of that time of unity as much as we do the loss of lives. The United States those terrorists thought they could change surely has been changed, and not for the better. Somehow we lost our way in a wave of nativist, xenophobic, racist, homophobic, misogynistic fear... and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic exposed just how many Americans care more for their own convenience than for the lives of their countrymen.
Before we thought that COVID-19 would mean that the lights of memory wouldn't shine today, 19 years later.
Except that they will.
Thanks to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Tribute of Lights will shine tonight.
And help me put aside everything today except my promise.
Today, and every year on this day, those lights help me do what I swore I would do, 19 years ago, as I walked with my friend Toni through the streets of lower Manhattan, and stared at the posters with the faces of the missing, and at the empty firehouses, and at the twisted steel girders.
I promised that I would remember.
It's time now to fulfill that promise for this year. Time again to remember. Time again to open the film canister 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.