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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.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Call of 9/11*

Image and Words Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
September 18, 2011
as "The call of 9/11"

The tenth anniversary has past.  The first heat in the breathless race to establish a memorial for the crew and passengers of Flight 93 has been won.  In a field near Shanksville, along one side of the Pentagon in Arlington, and around the empty footprints of two towers in New York City, people gathered.  Across the country, small memorials were dedicated, speeches were made, and words were written.  Everywhere, Americans paused to remember a day that changed us all.

As I sit here, brief images of this past weekend’s events flash by.  We arrived early and spent time talking to others nearby.  Though strangers, we were linked by the common purpose in being there.  We spoke of the common thread of where we were and what we were doing when we first heard the news out of New York; how we felt when we knew our country was under attack.

Every American who was alive, awake, and aware on September 11, 2001 will forever share that common bond.  Because for Americans, everything that happened that day was personal.  

I remember George W. Bush’s words of faith and country; Bill Clinton’s words about the courage of choice; and Joe Biden’s powerful words of how September 11th, 2001 changed us all; as a country, and as individuals. 

I remember the somber tolling of the Bells of Remembrance as the names were read by the family members, and the catch in my throat at the words “…and unborn child.” 
Among the cluster of pilots and flight attendants seated behind me, the heartbreaking sound of weeping.

There were the first responders, firefighters, police, and EMS, proudly wearing their dress uniforms.  I remember thinking that these folks are not well-paid, and those beautiful and dignified clothes must have set them back considerably.

I remember watching as the family members walked through the wildflowers in the crash site, laying flowers and memorials where their loved ones made their sacrifice.  And one person who found that one special panel on the Wall of Names, and knelt in prayer.

And above it all floated the soft and sadly sweet voice of Sara Mclochlan flying us all into the arms of the angels."

Mostly, I will remember the sense of unity.  Even amongst the politicians assembled, there was not one tiny whiff of the stink of partisan politics.  None of us were conservative, liberal, or libertarian. 

We were one country; one people.

It was a healing weekend; a catharsis, not only for survivors but for our nation as a whole.  For ten years, the memory of 9/11 has been an open wound.  Now the wound has a chance to close, although we will wear the scar forever.

Time will pass.  The years will come and go.  Children will grow to adults, and adults will age into senescence.  Eventually, a time will come when there will no longer be any left who were witnesses of that day.

But the memorials will remain.  They will stand in testimony of all 9/11 meant to this generation.  The shock and horror of the act, the heroism of those involved, and that most bitter lesson of never again taking anything -- or anyone -- for granted.

Long after we are gone from this life, those names will remain.  We, even we here, in this place, at this time must solemnly vow to send into the future not just the names, but the people they were.  A hundred, or even an improbable two hundred years from now when people visit the Flight 93 National Memorial, that they can come to know those forty heroes, not as one-dimensional names on a wall, but as people with dreams and desires, lives and loved ones.  That they will take away from that place the knowledge that ordinary people are at times called upon to do extraordinary things, for no other reason than just being at a certain place in a particular moment of time.  And when that moment arrives, and that choice is laid before them, then the story of Flight 93 will inspire them to act.

Make no mistake, those moments of challenge and adversity will come.  We face a future which lies before us dark with foreboding and shrouded in uncertainty.  The struggles America will endure in the coming years will be a time when heroes are needed, and heroes will be called.

Let us hope and pray that in the memory of 9/11, we will, without hesitation, answer that call.
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