That day seven years ago . . .

by Michael O. Allen on September 11, 2008

Memories are a funny thing.

For instance, I miss the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. I miss them not in the way you miss some beloved architectural marvel, or cherished place. It held no mystery to me. I don’t miss the roaring murmur and the apparitional faces of multitudes of commuters going everywhere and nowhere at once.

I never had to think of the towers when they were here. They were just here, two pins, in the New York skyline.

I’ve said this before, if not here then in other places, but for the days and weeks, months and years after that cataclysmic day, I missed them the way you would a missing limb, you know, the strong, overpowering itch you want to scratch where your legs used to be.

On that preternaturally beautiful and sunny day seven years ago–when somebody somewhere was mad enough to strike us deep where we lived and worked, to violate us in a way total, complete and that we never thought possible–I was still a newspaper reporter. The smoke and sooth that filled the lungs, the burning smell that subsumed the senses, the dazed people who emerged from subterranean New York places and their environs to search for loved ones.

I was there.

I attended so many wakes and funerals. For cops. Firefighters. Cantor Fitzgerald workers. Everyday people from all walks of life. Each day, I rolled out of bed, left my family to cope and record their grief all over this region, people touched by that tragedy. And each grief became my own. But, as I had with war and genocide and disease outbreaks in Rwanda, broken limbs and dead bodies from terror attacks in South Africa, I packed those memories away, submerged them where they could trouble only my dreams.

But I still had to and have to come by this way, by where the World Trade Center used to be.

I never realized how much my eyes searched for those landmark buildings, how reassuring their presence had been, how much of a ballast they were to my brains, my sense of place. Those familiarly bland structures, not seeing them made me realize there was a void. And so it was for all the years afterward.

That feeling is gone now. Was it smoothed away by the years? I doubt it. Too much that is troubling occurred for that to be it.

But, that’s it. I don’t miss the towers. Not anymore.

What I miss now is the feeling, the sense, the knowledge that we are a ‘can do’ nation, a people that can tackle any challenge, if we try, if we put our mind to it. There are still holes where the towers used to be, nothing rebuilt. New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are still messed up from Katrina, Rita, Gustav, FEMA, Bush, etc., etc. That bridge in Minnesota is still not rebuilt.

Our nation now is every man, woman, child for his or herself; I’ve got mine you get yours and, if you cannot, tough. That’s who we’ve become.

It didn’t have to become that way, of course.

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