This is what I wrote in my news blog a few days after 9-11, the morning that changed a generation.
Words and Will
Do not underestimate the power of words.
For the last week, since the morning in
New York and Washington that none of us will
ever forget, there have been many words
on the television, in the news, on the
web, in places of worship and around dinner
tables or on street corners throughout the world.
Last week there was an article in Wired online
that rightly heralded the efforts of independent
news sites and personal diaries on the web. I
of course consider myself to be running one of these sites.
But the article, while it may have been well-meaning,
also included two inappropriate comments. First, the
author referred to a Thomas Friedman column in the
New York Times as 'war mongering'. Anyone with even
a cursory knowledge of Friedman's work knows this
comment to be an absurdity. The second and much more
troubling part of the article was a description of the
photo of three New York firemen hoisting a flag above the
wreckage that was the World Trade Center as a 'cliche'.
This photo is undoubtedly hanging on the walls of fire departments
throughout New York. The flag raising was being done
by people who had just lost hundreds of their colleagues
and friends - coworkers they called brothers. What could
be less of a cliche?
My generation is one of cynics. And rightly so. Our
major experience with the flag has been a debate over
whether there is a constitutional right to burn it. And
these debates were healthy. Our cynicism, born in the
shadows of events like Vietnam and Watergate, made
But this is different. I want my generation to know
this is different. Politicians who once wouldn't speak
to one another have cried in each other's arms. This is
a moment in our lives, indeed the lives of all Americans,
without precedence. Our vigilant demand for truth is always
a must, but we must adjust our thinking and our words
for a new era. Nothing about this event is cliche.
When President Bush visited New York City last Friday,
he was approached by the mother of a man who was among
the rescue workers killed while rushing towards the
collapsing buildings. The woman made her way through
the crowd until she was close to the President. She
took out her son's badge, pulled from the rubble
by his co-workers, and placed it in the President's
hand. She told him she wanted him to have it to give
him strength to face the coming challenges. A cliche?
A made-for-television movie? This is real. This is
not about politics. This is not business as usual.
This is a crisis the likes of which no one, especially
those in my generation, ever thought we'd face in our
lifetime. We need to lock arms. To lock arms with the
families of the victims in New York. To lock arms
with our military personnel and their families. To lock
arms with our fellow citizens around the world.
To lock arms with our leaders who are under enormous
pressure to protect our citizens. Let's open
ourselves up to the images of those firefighters
and our flag. That split second in time, splintered
by horrors but still filled with pride, is an image
around which we should and must rally.
I don't know how they will do it.
I don't know how the people of New York and the families
of victims there and in Washington D.C. can regain
their spirit to deal with this situation. A friend of a friend
in New Jersey was teaching a high school class in a room with
a view of the twin towers. At the moment of the first collision,
a kid in his class stood up and screamed. His father worked
in the towers. Another friend in New York told me about
parents who lost two children to this event. One of their
sons was aboard a hijacked plane that hit the World Trade
Center. He was on the way to a job interview in California.
Their other son was spending his first day in a new job
on a high floor of one of the towers. People like these
are wandering the streets of New York with pictures and
descriptions of their missing loved ones.
I really don't know how they will do it. How could I?
My life has been a cakewalk. I am a card carrying member
of the generation of cynics I described above. But this
week, I have been thinking about my parents. My parents
are both full-fledged heroes. Write-a-book about them
heroes. During their last meeting, my mother's mother
had to put her on a train out of Germany that took her away
from her family and to a war torn childhood living in
orphanages. My dad lost not only his entire family, but
almost everyone in his entire town. His time of mourning was
spent becoming a partisan fighter in the war. I am the child
of heroes. But they weren't born that way. The situation
called for heroism and the human spirit of my parents and
countless others rose to the occasion. Yes, they are heroes.
Write a book about them heroes. New York Fire Department heroes.
Bring down a hijacked plane in Pennsylvania to save lives on the
ground heroes. Families of the victims heroes. The parents of those two
sons, one on the plane and one in the building, heroes.
I don't understand how the human spirit can prevail.
I don't know how the citizens of New York can somehow
comeback and be stronger than they ever were. I don't
know how terrible events can lead, somehow, to strength.
I don't know how they will do it.
But I know they will.