“Nearly everything you do is of no importance, but it is very important that you do it.” – Mohandas Gandhi
The ten year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our home soil brought an outpouring of emotion that is seldom seen in our time. Presidents, dignitaries, celebrities, and public figures of every stripe offered sincere words to try and define the scar that will forever remain on the heart of this country. As with almost any wound, the inflicting of pain and injury tends to be blindingly quick, but the healing process is a slow and agonizing struggle.
I saw so many images yesterday of individual people as they tried to find ways to cope with the loss that still lingers in their lives. So many names, and each one of them with a story all their own, stand as a testament to the ripple effect that such an event causes. While each of them might say if they were here, “I only did what I had to do,” or possibly, “I did all that I could,” the fact remains that each of their actions, no matter how small carried significance.
The Twin Towers themselves were made up of literally millions of parts, and while a rivet, or pipe, or cable might seem mundane on their own, they came together to create one of the great engineering marvels of our time. They stood like stately sentinels at the south end of Manhattan, and even when they were dealt a lethal blow, it seemed as though they held on with defiant resolve, buying every precious second possible before finally yielding and falling in on themselves.
Last night I watched a film on DVD entitled, “Remember Me,” and even though the story was punctuated by the attack on the Towers, it was a very human story.
Robert Pattinson and Pierce Brosnan portray a father and son whose relationship is strained to say the least. Brosnan is a wealthy business magnate who has provided amply for his family, but work has taken its toll on their quality time together.
In a parallel story, Chris Cooper plays a Brooklyn cop whose wife is murdered in a street robbery while their young daughter looked on in horror. Now the daughter is grown, and as a single father he fights the demons of coming to grips with her adulthood.
All of these story elements could have stood on their own, but when the tragedy of that day struck, all of the survivors were forever changed. While each dealt with the loss in different ways, the small traits that made each of them unique became different forms of inspiration.
From my personal experience, I had been dating my wife for about a year when 9/11 took place. We had met via the internet, and I had been traveling up to Staten Island to see her about once a month.
Over the course of that summer she had taken me into Manhattan on several occasions, and one of those jaunts included a visit to the World Trade Center. The courtyard area with its large sphere sculpture sat roughly between the Towers, and I felt incredibly insignificant at the feet of those mammoth structures. The place was a virtual beehive of activity, and yet its simplistic beauty was hard to describe. Was it just me, or was there an ironic feeling of calm serenity in the midst of these vertical cities?
I don’t use the term “vertical city” lightly in this context. While New York has a known population of eight million, I was astounded when she told me that each tower housed about eighteen thousand people, which is the rough equivalent of every man, woman, and child that makes up the small Virginia town I come from.
That visit to the Towers at the time felt like just another stop in a city filled with amazing sights. I have no pictures to commemorate what I saw that sunny afternoon, but to this day I cherish the memory of having seen the place in all of its magnificent glory. I also have no doubt that when I travel back to New York to visit the 9/11 Memorial, I will attempt to seek out that very spot I stood a decade ago, and close my eyes and remember it like it was.
I was fortunate that I did not lose a loved one on that fateful day, but I have seen the after effect on my wife and her daughter. I walked the eerie silent streets with them when Lower Manhattan was re-opened to the public. I stood with them in awestruck disbelief as we looked out over the image of destruction unlike anything I had ever witnessed.
I saw the tears of desperation on the faces of everyone we passed or stood beside, and the hushed sobs of people holding onto one another whispered on every breeze.
The days that followed saw a change in perception of almost every facet of everyday life, and some remain with us to this day, but the one thing that has sadly disappeared was the incredible outpouring of kindness and effort that rose from the ashes. People put aside race, ethnicity, and creed to labor side by side for the benefit of their fellow man, and the feeling of unity that it brought was powerful and moving.
So many people, so many hands, with no regard to individual motivation, performed all manner of small tasks, and together they made an enormous impact.
In my subsequent visits to New York over the last ten years, I have watched the place I once stood transform from something horrific to something poignant and beautiful, and it took many hands and hearts to make that a reality. If there is one thing that New York excels at, its constant rebirth, and preserving what was old while making it new once more.
I could even say the same of my wife as I have watched her find ways to heal her own wounds. Be it her pictures, her writing, or her quilts, and while each might seem small and unimportant to some, it was very important that she do them.
None of us can know how many people we touch in our lives, or what small words or acts of kindness may leave a lasting impression, but for the people in New York, the soldiers in The Pentagon, and a lonely field in rural Pennsylvania, there is no such thing as unimportant.
– T. August Green