Conor Rogers, Editor
As if 3,650 days – ten years – is some sort of nationally accepted mourning period, a whole host of folks have come out with an array of columns and commentary suggesting it’s simply time to get over 9/11, to move on, to exist in a new era, and so on. In the style of calm intellectuals who have reasonably removed themselves from the passion of 2001, they say that two wars, a dead bin Laden, and a decade later, it’s time to stop letting 9/11 define us.
I’d love to. I’d love to forget the television screen. I’d love to act as if my heart doesn’t sink when the New York skyline peaks into view as I drive home. I’d love to forget the chaos of that school day. I’d love to forget Saturday night mass on September 15th, 2001, and with it, I so badly wish to forget crowds around widowed women and stone-faced children, hanging onto the pews for strength, praying that their husbands and fathers would come home despite all earthly odds.
If we could have gotten over it, if we could forget, if we could move on, we would have done so by now.
Demanding that the people of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, DC, Maryland, Virginia, and with them, the rest of the United States and our policies, simply just move on is not a mark of intellectualism deserving of a front page column. It is a mark of the worst form of feigned contrarianism.
To ask that we move on from the New York City Fire Department’s public display of one of the most courageous acts modern man has ever seen is not the sign of a reasoned policymaker — it’s what happens when people simply forget.
It’s what happens when we presume time can erase what was done. To forget the day evil men bested us is to forget that there is evil out there at all. To presume that it is over because we killed the man that did it, forgets that there are thousands more who wish to be him.
To excuse their evil acts because of their economic situation, certain US policies or an excuse by any other name, is to surrender the concept of good. September 11th is remarkable not just for the severity of the pain and tragedy inflicted, but also for the clarity of the moral contrast on display.
From the instant that these evil men struck the United States, good men – firemen, police, other first responders — struck back, and struck back hard. They declared our victory over terrorism, immediately. On display to the entire world was the fact that the United States of America is not a nation of fearful surrender, it is a nation built on the shoulders of men who sacrificed their own lives to save the innocent, not die to kill them. We watched as men who pray as they rush fires to save lives became the first punch back to blasphemous men who pray as they kill. As if I was watching a modern crucifixion unfold before my eyes, good men died at the hands of evil so that others could live. No American generation should ever be allowed to forget that.
There is no grand catharsis coming – no more than already did on May 2nd. There is no emotion that may arise in the 11th year that has not presented itself by the 10th. If we have not yet moved on, we will not.
Truly, I’d love to move on from missing posters, the images of the Towers on fire, and the darkened sky – but I never want to move on from the response. I do not want to forget my friend’s retired father who resumed his duties as a fireman the next day. I do not want to forget the children running lemonade stands on the various corners of my hometown saying simply “For New York.” I do not want to leave behind the standing ovation at church in the aftermath when our priest reminded us to be slow to anger, and quick to charity. I will not leave behind the contrast displayed that day – the first time in my lifetime that good men triumphed so publicly over evil. It was the day nuance died. We were the force for good, nearly brought to our knees, but we refused. First our firemen, then Flight 93, followed by the whole of the nation. We rebuilt our nation on the backs of those firemen – children dressed up like them for Halloween that October, my friends have since joined their ranks, and adults remain inspired by the FDNY’s unimaginable courage. If we strive as a nation not to move on from them, but instead to be more like them, like the spirit of that day, our nation would be better for it.
We should not move on from it, because events like September 11th are not meant to be forgotten no more than one’s own name. We are given our names, we do not choose them, and over time, though we may redefine them; we never lose them.
Do not forget September 11th; do not forget the 343 men who died so others could survive. Do not move on, double-down – so that we may try to be a nation that lives up to the undeniable honor those 343 performed.
We were not defined by terrorists — we defined ourselves in spite of them.