A Time for Remembrance and Healing
Two weeks ago, I attended the opening of a new photography exhibit in North Alabama observing the 5th anniversary of 9/11. Called Aftermath: Images of Ground Zero, it was an inspiring chronicle of the destruction and painstaking recovery that occurred in New York following the attacks. With all of the images that have been recorded from Ground Zero in New York, September 11 has been etched into our consciousness like few events before.
As a nation we remember the death of John F. Kennedy and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but perhaps not as vividly as we do 9/11. With unprecedented coverage by countless news networks, we’ve seen much of the tragedy but are only beginning to appreciate the healing that has followed. In the five years since the attacks in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania, we’ve made progress toward better protecting our nation from such attacks. But, what happened five years ago is about more than simple protection. It’s also about healing and the American spirit.
In many respects, we’ve lost sight of the massive effort that has gone into our nation’s collective recovery. I say collective because this wasn’t a localized event. It was an attack on America’s soul that cut across all political, social and geographic lines. It touched every American in a uniquely personal way and continues to do so today.
What happened at the Pentagon in Washington is a good example of our national recovery effort. Approximately 400,000 square feet of its space required complete structural demolition and reconstruction. About 2.1 million pounds of limestone were quarried and cut in southern Indiana to be used in the rebuilding effort. It required 3,700 stone pieces to be placed on the exterior of the building. As many as 1,000 workers, initially working three shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, undertook the project.
On the construction site, there was a large digital clock that displayed the hours and minutes remaining until the first anniversary of the attack. The words, "Let's Roll," stood on the clock to honor the heroes who died in the skies over Pennsylvania to prevent further attacks on Washington.
By September 11, 2002, the E-ring, the Pentagon's outer ring where the aircraft hit the building was reoccupied and open for business.
It’s that spirit that has been reflected time and time again. What happened in Washington was repeated in New York and across the nation. People came together to help friends and strangers alike… united behind a common belief that we would not surrender the American spirit that is so unique to our country.
To me, this is the real lesson of September 11. It’s how we came together united by common bonds and kindred emotions. Today, we’ve lost some of that to time and distance.
It’s important that we remember what we felt in the moments following these attacks so that we may never experience that level of pain again. Equally important is to remember our strength and resolve in the months and years that have followed. My hope is that people will observe September 11 and understand that the story wasn’t finished that day. It’s still being written.