Ten Years After 9-11

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor


Richard Johnstone

It was a communal nightmare, a sweat-soaked, surreal dreamscape of mass destruction carried out by terrorists to whom death meant nothing, and life meant even less.

Seared into each of us, no doubt, is a unique set of images, our mind’s attempt to distill meaning from the unfathomable and to document the unspeakable: those horrible hours beginning mid-morning on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 — since then, of course, shorthanded into 9/11.

My own mind’s-eye images run in super-slow motion; billions of bits of paper are seen floating, drifting, hanging in a ghostly gray cloud, like snow inside a fog bank. Each bit — each flake — represents a message undelivered, a life shortened, a dream thwarted, a family altered forever. As we wrote in these pages nearly 10 years ago, in the October 2001 issue, “These international murderers shook our national house, but they didn’t —  and can’t — damage our rock-solid foundation. The cowardly attacks, though, exacted a horrendous toll of good and decent people in New York and Northern Virginia and Pennsylvania.”

Some of our readers in Northern Virginia and elsewhere lost family members and friends in the attacks on 9/11. There were then, and are now, no words to express precisely the profound grief that we all felt, and still feel, for their loss. Living well may well be the best revenge, but living without — a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, a sweetheart, a friend — surely has few consolations but to honor the departed with days well-spent and lives well-lived. 

The editorial we published in October 2001 also noted that some good had come of the 9/11 attacks, musing that “our citizens have forgotten superficial differences and come together as Americans. This massive, blessed country has become something of a big small town.” A common, foreign foe is surely the easiest way to draw a nation’s people closer together, so the incredible sense of unity following 9/11 is not surprising. But as we all know, a protracted economic recession across the land and a divided government in Washington have tested our unity mightily in recent years.

The American economy, and politics, both go through cycles. Today’s flush of victory is tomorrow’s chastened defeat. But everlasting and evergreen — and ultimately paramount — are the goodness and nobility of the American people, who are far too honorable and fair-minded to let political infighting divide us for long. Our focus should be on preserving this precious democracy, not perpetuating the tenure of its officeholders; and on nurturing that feeling of “a big small town,” not having to bemoan a big divide that destroys that small town feeling.

So, today, 10 years after 9/11, what should we make of, and take from, all this? On September 11 this year, each of us will no doubt reflect back in a very personal way on the events of a decade ago, while pondering whatever haunting images were burned into our memories. As we do so, we will surely remember the sacrifices made by all the brave men and women both on that day and on every day since.

But we should be sure to contemplate, too, the tenacity of life, and the power of faith and hope. Some of you may have read about a little pear tree that survived the collapse of the twin towers on 9/11. This eight-foot-high “Survivor Tree” was discovered in the rubble a month later, its trunk blackened, its roots broken. Taken to a plant nursery in the Bronx, it was cared for and recovered. Replanted late last year at the 9/11 Memorial Plaza, it now stands some 35 feet high. 

Earlier we referred without attribution to a thought expressed by a 17th-century English clergyman, George Herbert, who wrote that “Living well is the best revenge,” which is great advice that’s been greatly repeated.

But Herbert also wrote something far less-repeated: “Storms make oaks take deeper root.” This republic of ours is a mighty oak indeed. The storms of the last decade have buffeted the base and battered the branches. Meanwhile, though, our roots have grown ever-deeper, tightening our grip on this land, strengthening our hold on the soil in which we’re planted.

The storms and squalls of the moment will pass. And we will survive. And prosper. Together. One people. United. Indivisible. 


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