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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

9/11: Making it Personal*

Firefighters carry Father Michael Judge from the rubble.
Photo credit: Reuters.
*September 11, 2007 Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
as "On this day, remember life's fragility"

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

“Time is passing. Yet, for the United States of America, there will be no forgetting September the 11th. We will remember every rescuer who died in honor. We will remember every family that lives in grief. We will remember the fire and ash, the last phone calls, the funerals of the children. “

“Now, we have inscribed a new memory alongside those others. It’s a memory of tragedy and shock, of loss and mourning. It’s also a memory of bravery and self-sacrifice, and the love that lays down its life for a friend–even a friend whose name it never knew. “
- President George W. Bush, December 11, 2001

These words spoken by President Bush will be echoed by many on this day. Six years ago, in the space of 2 hours, the world was changed; our nation was changed; we were changed. 9/11 has become a watershed event in history, defining two separate worlds – the one before, and the one after.

For the world, the memory of that day is a shocking visage of death and destruction unparalleled in modern human history. For Americans, the attacks were more than the sum total of damage and loss of life. Collectively, our myth of invincibility, our illusion of invulnerability, our delusion of safety was shattered.

But in the midst of the death and destruction of that day, a great light broke through. The darkness was dispelled, illuminating this nation from border to border and sea to sea. We, the people of the United States found our unity. For a few brief, precious moments in time, we stood shoulder to shoulder; arm in arm. We spoke with one voice. We felt with one heart. We proved to the rest of humanity, and to ourselves, that the phrase "United We Stand" is not mere words, but the singular defining element of what it truly means when we say "We Are Americans." And the world stood back in awe.

“Wisdom enters through the wound,” and in examining the harsh lessons learned, changes since have been made, and our ability to respond has improved. It is perhaps important to note that since September 11th, 2001, over 9,000 terror attacks have occurred worldwide.

But not one on American soil.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we can drop our guard or indulge in complacency. It was unremitting vigilance that has kept us safe before; it will be unremitting vigilance that will ensure our continued security in the future.

In considering the meaning of this event, I found my thoughts turning not to politics or ideology or theology. Instead, I considered the surviving families of those who fell that day.

There were two types of victims on September 11th. One group was those who were trapped in the towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the crews and passengers aboard the four hijacked airliners; the innocents swept up in those moments of terror and tragedy. The other group was the legion of first responders, firefighters, police officers, paramedics, and those who simply wanted to help. Their dedication was inspirational, as they courageously strode towards the danger. Too many of them paid with their lives that day, mainly because they refused to leave their posts until ordered to do so, an order which, tragically, came too late.

To lose a loved one through an inconceivable act of violence has to be one of the most painful experiences a human can endure. There never seems to be a satisfactory answer to the question of “why?” All we know is that one moment they were there, and then they were gone. We are left with no answers, only the overwhelming power of loss.

Washington Irving once wrote,

“There is sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief; and unspeakable love.”

Those families have shed many tears; today they will undoubtedly shed some more. While we share their heartache, I don’t think any one of us can fully comprehend the depth of their loss.

Grief is a journey; a difficult, yet cathartic path, strewn with rocks and potholes, that must be traveled. There are no shortcuts or bypasses on the road to healing. Sadly, there is nothing we can do to assuage their sorrow; nothing except accompany them on their walk, and help them to know that they do not walk alone.

And that we will never forget.

Life is ultimately fragile; the future an ever-shifting miasma that defies predictability. What we take for granted today may vanish without a trace tomorrow. I’m certain there were many loved ones who parted that morning swept up in the routine of what they thought would be just another work day, having no idea at all that it would, in fact, be the last day.

I think, therefore, the most important personal lesson from September 11th is the importance of today; of taking the time to treasure the moments and the people who touch our lives.

So today, I will remember the husbands and wives, the brothers and sisters, parents and children who suffered loss on that day.

Today, I will tell my wife what a gift she has been to me;

Today, I will tell my children how special and precious they are.

Today, I will tell my best friend what his friendship has meant to me.

Today I will remember my parents and the sacrifices they made for me.

Today, I will seek out a stranger and make a friend.

Today, I will seek out one with whom I’ve shared anger and try to make peace.

Today, I will enjoy my life and treasure every moment as if it were my last.

I will do all these things today and not wait for later.

Because life is fragile -- and fleeting.

And who knows what will happen tomorrow?

“It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated to that great task remaining before us. That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
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