As I watch my children and see their expressions change as they watch the coverage of the events of September 11, 2001, I realize that this event has changed their lives just as the events of past wars or tragedies have changed the lives of children and adults since time began. When I look at the footage, I have an emotional gut level reaction, I still cry silent tears as I listen to the accounts of the horrors of that day along with the incredible stories of human courage and bravery. I am also in awe as I see and hear account after account of people surviving against all odds, and I take comfort that regardless of all of our advances, our basic instinct of survival remains unchanged. This instinct links us with all living creatures and serves as a reminder that at our core, we all share the basic needs of life and the will to survive.
“That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done. So, there is nothing new under the sun. ” Ecclesiastes chapter 1, verse 9
I realize that I now share a common bond with others throughout history. I have lost count of the times I have sat and watched footage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. I have seen the shock, horror, and tears of the American people on that day, but, I couldn’t fully feel what they felt. Nor could I feel the anger and shock that occurred on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor killing over 2,000 people and damaging or destroying eight battleships. I have watched as survivors place wreaths on the water or submerge plaques in honor and memory of those who fought and died in that attack, but I couldn’t feel the healing that these acts helped foster. Nor could I ever understand what it was like to live in this country during segregation and the civil rights movement. I was not alive at 6:01 P.M. on Thursday, 4 April 1968, when a fatal rifle shot hit the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as he stood on a balcony outside his second-floor room at the Lorraine Motel. Nor was I aware of how our soldiers were treated when they returned home from the war in Vietnam, or how the Native Americans felt as they were forced out of their homes and made that horrible journey known as the Trail of Tears. How could I know what it was like to live in this country during the time of the Civil War? I can’t feel what the people who actually experienced those events felt, but I do know that I can not discount those feelings or events in the past. Even though I wasn’t there for these events, because of September 11, 2001, I share a kinship and bond with those who were.
Because of the horrible act of terrorism on that day, I know what it feels like to feel helpless in the face of tragedy, to burn with anger at the injustice, to wish for and even pray for retribution. Because of 9/11, I know what it feels like to weep even when you know your tears will not wash away the pain or change anything that has happened. I also know what it is like to sit frozen in fear as report after report brings more bad news, and what it is like to realize that your life and the world as you knew it, will never be the same.
I have looked into the faces of innocent children as countless teachers and parents before me, and I have seen the fear and disbelief in their eyes. I know what it is like to listen to their open and honest reactions when they ask why can’t we all just get along, why do we have to hate, why do we have to have war…just why? I now know what it is like not to have an answer that makes any of these tragedies make sense. I also know what it is like to wish for change in the world, to wish I could make it a safe and loving place for our children to live. I have felt the weight of those that came before me and those that will come after me, as get down on my knees, as they have done and will do, and I ask why. Like them, I pray for understanding, and to somehow find acceptance and forgiveness.
No, I wasn’t there on June 6, 1944 when General Dwight D. Eisenhower gave the D-Day order and said, “You will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped, and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely….The free men of the world are marching together to victory. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory. Good luck, and let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
I didn’t hear the General’s words, but I imagine I felt much as the people who did hear them, when I heard President Bush speak out against terrorism in the days following 9/11. My chest burned with fury, my eyes stung with unshed tears, and my heart pounded in my chest as I listened to our leaders call for justice. Love of country and patriotism flowed through my body. I felt justified in my lust for revenge, I wanted it to be swift and I wanted it to be massive.
I now know what it must have been like to feel justified in dropping a bomb on the Japanese people. I remember reading about the horrors of those atomic bombs and wondering how anyone could justify the use of such weapons, and yet in the days following September 11, 2001, I had to admit that my blood ran cold and my anger burned hot. I could no longer in good conscience, look back in judgment and question the actions of others, how were their feelings any less than my own after the horrors of 9/11. No, I now have to face the facts that, ten years later, there are those who question why we as a nation wanted and even welcomed revenge and war. I now know what it feels like to have those who did not share the emotion of the tragedy on 9/11, judge the actions of those of us who did.
I also know what it feels like to long for our brave men and women to come home, and to be weary of war. And with every flag draped coffin I see bearing the bodies of our brave soldiers, I wonder why we are now fighting for a country that has not proven to be a true ally in the war on terror. And I now know what it feels like to burn with rage at those who protest at the funerals of men and women who have laid down their lives to help ensure that the very people who are hurling hate words at their family members, retain their rights to free speech set forth in our constitution. I also know that I cherish that right and I am thankful beyond words to those who defend our rights and fight to help protect us as well as others around the world. I may be weary of the war, but I have never doubted the threat of terrorism.
I now know more than I ever wanted to know.
Those of us that have experienced the full emotional impact of the events of September 11, 2001, are not unique. No, in fact, we have only taken our place in history beside those that came before us and doubtless, those that will come after us. We were not the first nor will we be the last generation to burn with fury at an enemy that stole our innocence, we are not the first to cry for retribution, nor the first to seek that retribution. This tragic and hostile event has left us with our own stories of where we were and how we felt and, to some degree, still feel about September 11, 2001.
No, sadly, we are not unique, we are just a different story of loss, bravery, and the complexity that is the human condition, unfolding in the fabric of time. There is indeed, nothing new, under the sun.
Make the most of your time under the sun.