20 years later...
For 20 years, it has sat close at hand.
It's not much to look at.
An old plastic film canister, the kind that 35mm film used to come in, back in the day.
Film of the kind I had in my pocket that day in September 2011 when my friend Toni asked me not to let her go alone to see what was left of the area she had fled.
Fled in fear and confusion and pain.
Fled from the smoke and the dust and the cries.
On that day, 20 years ago today.
September 11, 2001...
The day when hatred came home here to the United States and unleashed its wrath on thousands and thousands of innocent people.
None of us -- no-one alive on that day -- will ever forget the events of that morning:
- 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 terrible moments between 8:46 a.m. and 10:29 a.m., nearly 3,000 men, women and children lost their lives to that senseless, mindless, blind hatred. So many people -- among them my neighbors, my colleagues, my friends -- wiped from the face of the earth.
The youngest was two. The oldest was 85.
Some died in an instantaneous blinding flash they never saw coming. Others had long agonizing moments in which to choose to burn... or to jump.
Most were Americans. Many were not. They were black, white, brown, Asian. They were of all faiths, all creeds.
And they all died -- every last man, woman and child of them -- because of blind unreasoning hatred.
The deaths of innocents are what happens when that kind of hatred gets the upper hand. The kind of hatred that cannot see others as deserving of care, of common decency, of compassion. The kind, I fear, that too many in this country are building in their hearts and souls. The kind that says “my convenience is more important than your life.” The kind that says “those who don't agree don't deserve to live.”
I haven't so much as a clue what to do about that kind of hatred. I have no answers to that kind of hatred from within today, any more than I had any answers to that hatred from without all those many years ago.
So I will put aside what I can't do, and focus on what I must do.
And what I must do, today, is put aside everything -- even my fear of where we are and what we are becoming -- and focus, instead, on my promise.
The one I made as I walked with my friend Toni through the streets of lower Manhattan 20 years ago, 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, time again to stand witness to what that kind of hatred has done, and ... perhaps ... time to warn against what it still can do.
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.