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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.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

United by That Moment***

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey 

*Chicago Tribune
September 2, 2011
as "United by remembrance"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
September 3, 2011
as "United by Remembrance"

*Independence, MO Examiner
September 10, 2011
as "United in moment of remembrance"

It seems like just yesterday.  And yet it also seems like a lifetime ago;  that bright, blue, sun-splashed September morning 10 years ago when our world changed forever.  It was one of those moments, like Pearl Harbor and John Kennedy's assassination, that we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing at the moment we heard.
I was working in a Caterpillar factory in Boonville, Missouri.  It was a pleasant day for a change, but the morning air had felt distinctly chilly during my motorcycle ride to work. 
 My co-worker and best friend John and I were working steadily when the phone rang.  John answered, the looked up and said, "A plane flew into the World Trade Center in New York."  We shook our heads sadly and continued working.  I was thinking about an incident  in July 1945 when a B-25 twin-engine bomber, lost in the fog, slammed into the Empire State Building, when the phone rang again.  John answered it and then his face became agitated.  "Another plane hit the other tower!  The whole damn world's gone crazy!"
We tuned the radio trying to find some news.  After several moments we found a station out of nearby Columbia that had stopped their usual soft rock format and gone over to the audio feed from Fox News television.  We kept working, but our minds were churning.  As the reports flowed from the radio, we were shocked by the enormity of what had happened.  We heard about another plane crashing into the Pentagon, and a fourth one apparently crashing in Pennsylvania.  The government ordered every aircraft out of the sky.  And then in a moment of horrible disbelief, we were told that in New York City the twin towers of the World Trade Center had collapsed.  
At lunchtime, we turned on the television in the breakroom.  The reception was terrible, but the images were clear enough.
The rest of the afternoon was a blur, marked only by the flow of news and rumors.  Finally, the workday ended and I headed home.  It was still a bright, beautiful day, but in my mind and heart, it had become very dark and ugly.
Close to home I saw a sight that brought my only smile of that day.  Fearing what the attack would do to gas prices, people had lined up outside our little neighborhood Texaco mini-mart.  The line of cars snaked for more than a mile up the two-lane road.  The owner of the station never changed his prices, yet it was the biggest single day he'd had in 17 years.
At home, we were glued to the TV.   Each cycle of reporting brought new details.  But there were also disturbing stories of angry Americans who had sought their own vengeance.
Towards the end of the evening, a group of senators and congressmen gathered on the steps of the capitol in Washington, DC.  The leaders of both parties, who had lately been at each other's throats, solemnly pledged unity.  At the end of their speeches, someone amongst them started singing "God Bless America."  They all joined in, and at home, I wept without shame.
Lying in bed that night, I wondered what kind of world I would wake up to.  
The next day broke cool and clear.   The sun was just rising when I rode past the front of the plant.  There, a flagpole held Old Glory waving in the gentle breeze.  Unconsciously, I slowed to a stop and looked at the flag.  In my mind, the words came to me, unbidden:
"Gave proof through the night
That our flag was still there."

I suddenly understood the emotion that Francis Scott Key had poured into those words, often so mindlessly sung.  We had been attacked.  But by the dawn's early light, our flag still flew proudly.  We were bowed, but never broken.

In that moment, I knew America would survive.  

Ten years later, we face a serious economic crisis, unprecedented since the Great Depression.  The tone and tenor of the political debate grows more hateful by the day. We are a deeply divided people.
Yet on September 11th, 2011 all that will be laid aside.  For a few precious hours, we will unite in the memory of a shared tragedy.  Unfortunately, that solemn moment will not last.  As soon as the following day, the war of words and partisanship will resume.
But for one day, we will be one nation, united in our memories, our sorrows, and in the promise of remembrance.
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