It’s the numbers that get my attention. In a way, they are just numbers. But they take on deep meaning when connected to another set of numbers: 9/11/2001.
With the exception of President Kennedy’s assassination, no other event has had such a lasting impact on the American psyche. A decade on, just hearing “9/11” takes me back to the feelings of shock, fear, anger and helplessness that arose from the attack.
On that morning, I was sitting exactly where I am now. I had no idea what was happening, until my wife called from Midtown Manhattan and told me to turn on the TV. So, my first reaction was very personal: I was worried about Pat’s safety. By the end of Day 1, it became clear that she was safe, but it would be 4 more days before she could fly home.
I have other memories from that time: the eerie silence of the sky over my house emptied of airliners, the numerous stories of heroism, the outpouring of support from around the world. And then, on September 29, Saturday Night Live returned to the air. The opening sequence featured Mayor Rudy Giuliani and FDNY and NYPD personnel. Lorne Michaels asked Giuliani, “Can we be funny?” With perfect timing, the Mayor paused, then replied, “Why start now?” I laughed, maybe for the first time since the attack. And within the laugh came a great relief, a reminder that life does indeed go on.
As the days passed, it became clear that although we had been hurt badly, we had survived. And we would continue to survive.
Since that dark Tuesday in 2001, America has been forever changed. Historians will decide the percentages of good changes vs. bad ones, but for me, the one thing that stands out is the stark contrast between the strong bonds felt by and for Americans immediately following the attack, and the rank divisiveness that seems to grip us today.
As important as it is to remember 9/11, it’s also important to remember the brave men and women who have responded with their military service, and in some cases, their lives.
So, when you see the numbers, remember what they stand for: what we’ve lost, what we still have, and a future that is still ours to determine.
2,996: Lives lost at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA.
343: Firefighter deaths
60: Police officer deaths
4: Hijacked planes
16: People escaped the South Tower from above the floors where United Flight 175 hit
18: Survivors found in the rubble
4,442: U.S. troops killed in Iraq
1,584: U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan
90: Minnesotans killed in those two conflicts