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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, 2012

9/11: Where Do We Go From Here?

The Flight 93 National Memorial

Copyright © 2012 by Ralph F. Couey
We made it through the 10th anniversary commemorations.  Memorials now exist at Ground Zero in Manhattan, at the Pentagon in Arlington, and in that field near Shanksville.  The enemy who planned and carried out the attacks, in the opinion of some experts, is on the ropes, their founding leader dead, courtesy of the U.S. Navy SEALS.  Other terror groups are discovering how hard it is to hide from drones.
The United States is a far different place than it was on September 10, 2001.  The changes, far too many to enumerate here, have for the most part become second nature, part of the background of our daily lives.  People are far more vigilant.  In fact, several terror attacks have been discovered before they were carried out simply because someone somewhere saw something, and said something.  Higher security measures are in place, but like an old man with a limp, we’ve all learned to live with them.  Instead of constantly looking over our shoulders, we’re focused instead on the depth of our economic rut, and the spinning wheels of the government bus that only makes the hole deeper.  The election campaign has done more to spotlight our divisions instead of our unity.  None of us know when we’ll get our national feet under us again.  Some are quietly suggesting we may never come back; that the chapter of world history entitled “America” is coming to a close.
There hasn’t been a successful attack on our soil since 9/11.  That success is attributable to the unceasing efforts of thousands of unsung heroes, ranging from soldiers humping through the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan, to the deskbound intelligence analysts relentlessly digging and sifting, looking for that one nugget of data that could stop a potential attack in its tracks.  But make no mistake, an important part of that success is due to the actions of ordinary citizens who notice things that don’t look right, and report them.
But I think it important to pause and ask ourselves a very important question:
Where do we go from here?
As time passes, more space is put between the present and the past.  Memories, once so sharp and clear, begin to acquire a softer focus, even a blur.  Events that define generations and alter history fade into the background, becoming just another date and place  in a history book.  In a way, this is the natural course of events.  December 7th, 1941 was a penultimate moment, changing the course of events and forcing the future events that followed.  Yet, if you were to ask 100 people under the age of 25 what that date meant, you’d likely get a lot of blank stares.  Yet when members of the aging Greatest Generation gather, there’s no question in their minds about the significance of Pearl Harbor Day, and the effect that had on their lives.  
The two events are similar in that they were the only two times after 1812 when America was attacked on our own soil.  They are also alike in that both attacks came without warning and instantly transformed a politically divided nation into one united behind a single grim purpose.  And yet, as Pearl Harbor has faded from consciousness, so eventually will 9/11.  Those who were alive on that day will eventually pass from this earth, and the intense emotions generated by the attacks will likely go with them.
For those of us in this day and time, it seems hard to imagine a country where the date of 9/11 has lost significance.  But that same idea is carried by those from the World War II generation.
I’ve told the story numerous times of the sunset at Gettysburg, when I heard a young child ask, “What happened here?”  I can well imagine that perhaps a century from now, that same question will be posed by visitors to the three memorials to 9/11.
If those memories are to be preserved, if the meaning of that day is to be saved, it is up to us.  It is the task of every generation to take the meaningful events and pass them on to succeeding generations.  It’s not enough to remember the date, or even the event.  What must be passed on are the emotions we all felt that day; the shock, the horror and fear, and the sense of helplessness.  But what must also be preserved is the strong sense of unity that swept America in the days following, if for no other reason than to prove that we are not hopelessly divided by our politics.  That we can still be “indivisible.”
Perhaps that’s the one small success we can all share.
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