As we drove back for afternoon classes an hour later, it seemed like a different world. Annapolis was deserted, all the government offices vacated and the Naval Academy on lockdown. Because my college is sandwiched between those two things, police stood at the corners of the college, checking IDs before allowing us to enter. It was a terrifying time. It rewrote reality.
I remember having the thought, "What is relevant now? What matters? These stories I'm working on seem so trivial, but what stories wouldn't?"
We drove home that weekend, and across every bridge homemade banners stretched declaring "God Bless America." People had stuck Styrofoam cups into chain link fences to scroll out messages of their patriotism. American flags had sold out.
And now, nine years later, I think most of us have forgotten that again, or have at least shoved it to a convenient place in our minds, one that we don't have to look at but when we realize the anniversary is upon us.
So every year, I make it a point to pull out the essay I wrote on 9/11, which was published in my hometown paper a week later. It helps me remember--perhaps it will help you, too.
To My Brother, the Stranger
I did not know you. I never met you. If I had seen you, you would have been simply a face in the crowd. My thoughts never touched upon the possibility of your existence.
And yet. . .
And yet when I heard of the tragedy of losing you, you were suddenly my brother, my sister, my best friend. You were the comrade I never had the opportunity to meet, the face I could sketch simply because of how many faces you are. And every time I open my mind, it is to realize anew that you were a person, you were loved, and now you’re gone.
It’s a shock I never expected to feel , a pain no man, woman, or child should ever have to endure. And I did not know you. How much worse must it be for the widows, the orphans, the childless parents, the brotherless sisters that were made on that day? How much worse again for those who yet know nothing about the fate of those dearest to them?
It is a pain no one should have to gaze on, much less be consumed by. It is a piercing that should quickly tear down all barriers until there is nothing left but a shaken humanity, a resolved people, a united nation. It should induce the best in man when he looks at evil, when he sees the dancing in his enemy’s camps. It should make him realize that the sickness he feels, the death he sees is a presence to be ignored no longer.
I pray that somehow this change in our lives will be used in a way to make us better. I pray that as I walk down the streets of my untouched city I never forget that it could be gone in a moment. I pray that as I pass a stranger I remember to remember that he is not a stranger to someone. I pray that soon all our fears are exhausted and we are left instead with hope. And I pray that we never take for granted the greatness of our nation, lest through our disregard it lose that thing that sets us apart.
I can never say the right words to those who are grieving, because there are no words to be said. I did not know you. I never met you. All I can offer you is the love of a face you have never seen and the prayers of a heart that is reaching across the miles to the strangers it now calls brothers.
May God enfold us in His arms until the terror goes away. May He settle his peace over us until the rivers of tears run dry. May He comfort us until we become victorious. And may we never forget that it is He who will lift us from the mire. Today America has united in common anguish. Tomorrow we will rejoice in justice. And all the world will know that this is a nation that God has blessed and will never forsake. Let us be the first to proclaim that.