To visit the site of the 9/11 attacks today, the National September 11 Memorial Plaza at the World Trade Center, is to see a country’s spirit reborn and renewed with haunting tributes, graceful and soaring architecture, somber and beautiful museums, and the sound of water pouring from fountains outlining the bases of the two towers -—water that can be heard, at any time of day or night, over the noise and bustle of lower Manhattan, as a reminder.
At 8:46 Sept. 11, 16 years ago, the first plane struck the North Tower. It was the beginning of a coordinated attack that would down both skyscrapers, severely damage the Pentagon in an attack meant for the Capitol or White House, and send a fourth plane into a field in Pennsylvania as passengers united to take the plane back from hijackers.
It changed our country and was, along with Pearl Harbor, an attack that imbedded a new and lingering fear into each of us. Our oceans no longer provided the historic isolation and safety from foreign attack they had long provided. We discovered we were, and are, vulnerable.
Some reacted angrily denouncing Muslims and fostering suspicions of the “other” that continue to this day. Some sought to bring the county together — all races, all creeds, all religions — since, as a country of immigrants, we are all the “other,” part of a rainbow American family.
Now, with the divisive election of 2016 behind us, and with the political rhetoric as divisive and heated as it has ever been, we are left to wonder what 9/11 taught us. Who are we today and how are we different from who we were before 9/11?
Many proclaim loudly with sanctimonious authority. Few listen. Cooperation and tolerance are victims.
In the shadow of the Twin Towers, there is a poem by Emma Lazarus on a bronze plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty that speaks of who we were, are and can perhaps still be as a country. On the 16th anniversary of 9/11, the poem speaks eloquently about what it is to be an American.
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
‘Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she
With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’”