A decade and a half has passed since I snaked my way north through the united crowds of white, black, and brown faces who had coalesced around 9/11, and those moments of unimaginable shared horrors in the wake of what those beasts wrought upon us all..
And it’s now May of 2017. A quick comparative Google search of “Leonard Pitts, 9/11” (226,000) and “Leonard Pitts, Racism” (158,000) yield a somewhat similar number of search engine “hits”. This, despite the fact that his post-9/11 column had become quite the acclaimed piece of journalistic outrage and a voice for all of us in the weeks and months and years following the attacks by Osama Bin Laden inspired al-Qa`ida terrorists.
And, the gifted Miami Herald opinion columnist I chose to inspire my investigators in the days immediately following 9/11, has elected to loudly pick an ideological side. His columns, when I come across them now, are typically replete with railings against the police, America’s systemic and institutionalized racism, and continual references to America’s “troubled” past. He has been accused, online, of “anti-white bias”. The tone of his most recent offerings bear little resemblance to his soaring 9/12/2001 piece.
In some ways, he is just like the rest of us. We’ve all moved on from that fateful day and the attendant unity it engendered. We’ve certainly gone forward, as his seminal column directed us to do, but our individual paths have seemingly diverged. They were supposed to converge. Isn’t that what national tragedies are supposed to do — bring us together, for eternity, in perpetuity, what God has brought together — like a marriage — let NO man rip asunder?
No, sadly, we all soon moved past that clarion call for national unity. We vote our individual interests now. We forget JFK’s call to do for our country instead of asking our country to do for us.
We have retreated to our corners. We much prefer to adhere to a group that sees our country, and the world, through the exact same prism that we do. Diversity, in all things, right? Except in thought. Dissent was once patriotic…until it wasn’t…and now it is again.
Dissent IS patriotic. But the ugliness and selfishness and partisanship assuredly are not.
And so our disagreements over policy and budgets and expenditures and the size of our military consume us. Our differences are far more newsworthy than what brings us together; what makes us uniquely American.
I pray another generation never has to face what we all did on that horrific morning on September 11th, 2001; to confront the entrenched hatred of us and our way of life; to know friends and family that abruptly lost a loved one on that fateful. I pray that future generations don’t have to grapple with their 9/11, as my generation still grapples with its Pearl Harbor.
I foresee nothing on the immediate horizon that shares the same unique quality to bring us all together as tragedy seemingly does.
What will it take to bridge the divide, lessen the chasm, and unite a fractured nation?
No, I am not wishing for another tragedy. I lost friends in the rubble of the WTC. I know many folks still grappling with the losses of loved ones. But what is out there that has any resemblance to the construct of — from a shared tragedy comes unity?
The answer is that I do not have an answer. But I know how I felt — how we all felt — in the immediate days following the attacks, and I miss tremendously that spirit we shared. I miss the future it portended. I miss the hope and the greatness. And I sometimes wish I could teleport back in time to that feeling when the Hope & Changers and the Make America Great Againers could actually see eye-to-eye on more than just how much we all seemingly loath the other team. You remember that time, don’t you, when the “Resistance” actually involved valiant armed peasants attacking Nazi S.S.convoys in France in ’44, and wasn’t comprised of bratty elites who obstinately refuse to accept the results of a lawfully held national election.
So, it’s time to return to that post-9/11 moment, America.
It’s the moment that Mr. Pitts spoke so eloquently about in the column that I once pulled from my raid jacket pocket and sobbed while I recited the words. I still have it. It’s in a folder with a few pieces of my precious 9/11 memories and mementos.
I’ll show it to you when we meet.
The crude color printer copy of Pitts’ 9/11 column simply refuses to fade with time. The date of the printing, 9/13/01, still stubbornly discernible in the bottom right hand corner. Holding it now in my hands immediately takes me back to that moment of national coalescing and unification. And memories of the brave first responders who raced up those winding stairwells and into certain death … for ALL of us.
What will it take to return us to that momentary feeling of oneness?
I know that it’s incumbent upon me to do my part. And tears well up in my eyes, even now, as I write down my tortured thoughts, the words spilling out all over the page. I think back to all I owe to others because of dumb luck and timing. I’m an undeserved survivor.
And much like Private James Francis Ryan in Spielberg’s classic WWII movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” I can hear the challenge leveled in the dying words of Tom Hanks’ character, Captain John H. Miller:
“James … earn this. Earn it.”
I have struggled mightily to do just that in the days since 9/11. For my God, and my family, and for Lenny Hatton and John O’Neill. And whenever I waver in that mission to live my life as an example and to always stand up for what is right — no matter how unpopular that may be — I remember that I must continue to earn it.
“James … earn this. Earn it.”
And as time marches on and the memories of September 11th, 2001, in Lower Manhattan begin to recede, I remember the innocent visage of young “M.K.” as she sought my reassurance that all would be well again in the immediate calamitous aftermath of the airplane attacks on 9/11.
And some almost sixteen years later, we are okay. We survived the bastards’ best shot. We came back better than ever. But now it’s time to work on the fissures and cracks in our national veneer; the political and ideological ones that threaten to destroy us from within.
It’s time to go forward from this moment.
We owe nothing less to the 2,996 lost souls on that fateful day.
They’re looking down from heaven, those souls. They’re watching us with concern.
We need to … Earn This.
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