Harriet Freiberger: Recalling Sept. 11, 2001
September 11, 2010
On Sept. 11, 2001, everyone capable of awareness, living in this nation and in many places elsewhere on earth, experienced the one thing that all living creatures share. Death did not come naturally or accidentally. Rather, an intentional, violent act ended life for 2,981 human beings.
Then, what before had seemed impossible happened. Good did come from evil. For a brief moment in time, we were "one nation indivisible." We, all of us, were on the same wavelength. Indescribable, but definitely recognizable, the sensation of such unity overcame what might have become helplessness, generating an unusual and heartening strength.
One of the most difficult aspects of losing a loved one is the solitude of grief while the rest of the world goes on about its business. On that September day, wherever we were, when we looked at the person next to us on a bus or at a street corner, we reached out for understanding and received a response. Person to person, within our homes, at schools, workplaces and churches, then on an even larger front, something nameless connected us all.
That something rose from feeling the physical aftershock of a sudden penetrating violence. We watched and couldn't believe. Two planes crashed into the Twin Towers of New York City; another, into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth, we learned later, failed in its mission to hit the White House.
Explosion shattered iron and steel; flames burst from shredded buildings; people jumped from those towers to smash into concrete 100 stories below; smoke poured through streets that became tunnels for crowds trying to escape the horrors; and the living breathed in ashes of the dead.
Was there anyone that day who did not feel it?
Anyone not brought to a halt by the sickening pain?
Anyone who did not think about family and friends whom they cared about?
Death became our universal, our shared commonality. Together, we experienced one time and one place, and we recognized what was happening. Just as a funeral brings family and friends together, not simply to offer tribute and honor, but also to comfort one another at a time of loss, so were we there on that day in September nine years ago. We needed one another, and, oh my, it felt good to have one another.
Before anyone could move past the trauma, within 24 hours of those planes descending from the sky into New York City, American flags appeared — small and large — like a wave spreading outward from the towers themselves.
Our differences faded as red, white and blue colored not only New York City but also towns and highways across the continent and the oceans beyond. Millions felt the attackers' force, and each of us in our own way committed to a new sense of purpose. The wholeness of that moment stays with me now — a time before we began following our separate paths into the future, before the comments, causatives and calloused criticism.
When I close my eyes and return to nine years ago today, tears come and cries catch in my throat.
I do not want to keep the pain. It hurts too much. Rather I want to know that feeling of comfort again, when all of us reached toward what we believe is good. The "land of the free and the home of the brave" represents far more than a nation defined by physical boundaries.
On Sept. 11, 2001, we stood together in understanding of its larger meaning; every one of us, no matter where we lived, New Yorkers; every one of us, Americans.
Harriet Freiberger has lived in the Elk River Valley since 1982.