Never forget what?
Is there anyone who was alive and aware of what was going on that day who can’t remember every painful second of the day?
Is there anyone who can sit through a TV news story with somber music and those too real stories and the archival video from that day and the days after– can anyone who remembers that day sit through that without choking back tears and choking back vomit and reliving the bottomless horror and not being sure whether we’d have a world to wake up to the next day?
I spent the whole day at the controls of a radio station… mostly running the live airfeed of CNN, and occasionally giving a local station break or offering important local information. As people went home to pick up their kids or take care of family or just be swept up in horrific tragedy, I sat mostly alone in a windowless radio control room… Keeping it together to do my job. Being completely immersed in it, but processing only what I needed to process to keep the station on the air.
When I got home after 10 or so hours of that—I collapsed on the couch as the whole day hit me all at once. Just like every other American that day, pieces of my soul were shattered and melted and forever changed.
For everyone, for this country—there was before and there was after.
That’s where “never forget” hits me these days. None of us will ever forget that—but part of understanding and remembering and explaining the history lesson of it all, is to try to remember and describe and feel what the before times were like—and how the completely unimaginable murder of 3,000 people shattered every American and shattered the American way of life like throwing a beer bottle against a brick wall.
We say never forget because we want to make sure the next generation knows. But what America lost that day is so much more horrifying than even the stories we can tell about brave firefighters and police, of civilian heroes who punctuated one of the most selfless acts in out nation’s history with “Let’s roll,” more than the stories of those who made the choice to end suffering that day on their own terms and seared the image of their final moments leaping and crashing toward the earth.
Two decades later, those frightful stories are still with us—but also with us is the memory of those before times. To fully understand the misery of that day, we have to remember a time before our hearts hardened, our eyes steeled, and before we carved off portions of the idea what American freedom means—in order to preserve the rest of it.
We say never forget—but there really aren’t words to help someone who doesn’t remember the before times understand. They’ve grown up with the tougher heart and more aware eyes. They will never understand the idea of American freedom and the American way of life as we knew it when our alarm clocks rang on the morning of September 11, 2001.
Our trauma has become their way of life. It’s almost too much to bear. God bless those people whose lives were lost this day twenty years ago, God bless their families, God bless us and God Bless America—the way it was, the way it is, and the way it will be.