When there’s a terrible, traumatic event we collectively experience, we feel this need to commemorate the experience on each anniversary. After a few years, we know that every 5th anniversary, we know more will be made of it than on those that fall in between.
Last year, as hard as it was to believe, was the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks. It got a lot more notice, being the 10th anniversary, than it normally had the past few years before that.
This year, it’s the eleventh.
So what are we supposed to say? How do we mark the day without being too maudlin or too flippant?
Maybe the answer is revealed by the question itself. Maybe there’s something worth noting there about the resilience of the American people, that on the anniversary of such a terrible thing, we continue with our lives, much the way we did — with some notable exceptions — before September 11, 2001, woke us up to the grim realities of terrorism on our turf.
Look up at the skies some time today. You’ll see planes flying overhead. I try not to be overly superstitious, but I don’t know that I’d want to fly on any September 11th. But people do.
Take a look at the largest city nearest you and you’ll see tall buildings and public places where complete strangers come into proximity with one another constantly. Is September 11th a date when we’re really comfortable with that happening? It must be.
Maybe we’re a lot stronger than we thought we were on that morning on September 11th as we watched the footage.
Six years ago, as part of the fifth anniversary, I wrote a tribute piece to one of the victims of the attacks. His name was Joshua Birnbaum. I never met Josh, but I’d have liked to have known him. I learned of his story when a reporter at the television station I worked for during 9/11 traveled to New York to cover the impact of the losses on families months after the attack. His family was one of the families she talked to, and I never forgot that story.
But what do you say on an eleventh anniversary?
Maybe one of my best friends, Chip, found a good answer. His late dad was a firefighter and paramedic, and this morning on his Facebook page, Chip said what strikes him most is “the sacrifice made by the brave men and women who were running into the flames while everyone else was running away.”
But he also made mention of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the line that says, “the flag was still there.” He compares that to that iconic image of New York firefighters hoisting the flag over the rubble. I also remember firefighters and military members unrolling a giant flag against a wall of the Pentagon.
Yes, even after such a terrible event, even after eleven years of remembrance and suffering, the flag is still there.
Thanks for that reminder, Chip.