Let’s strive for that post-Sept. 11 unity without having a tragedy
Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, dawned bright and sunny in Mankato, Minn., just as it did in New York City and Washington, D.C.I, like most of you, remember that day — every minute detail — as if it were yesterday because for my generation, it’s our “Pearl Harbor” or our “JFK assassination.”My daughter and I awoke and got ready for our days — hers as a fourth-grader at Jefferson Elementary and mine as the education reporter at the Mankato Free Press.Her mother wasn’t up yet because little Joshie and Noah were still dozing, a rare “sleeping-in day,” and I needed to get to the office early.I set the stove alarm for Abby and told her when it went off, to turn it off and go to the bus stop.Ten minutes later, I was at “my convenience store,” a Kwik Trip and grabbing my morning breakfast when “Crazy Eddie” came in and said a plane had hit the World Trade Center.His nickname was well-deserved so the Kwik Trip regulars gave each other a “there-Eddie-goes” look and paid our bills. But on this day, Eddie was the sanest man in the store.We know what happened next — a second plane went into the other tower, another plane crashed into the Pentagon and a third plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field — and America would never be the same again.I, like every reporter in America, worked long into the night on Sept. 11, for the attacks may have taken place in New York City and Washington but it deeply affected all of us.I’m writing this column on Sept. 11, 2016, and it’s a beautiful Sunday — one of those beautiful days that God must give us because he knows there’s so many crappy ones to come.It’s been 15 years, I’m thinking to myself, yet, like I wrote earlier, it feels like yesterday.I have scores of vivid memories from that horrific Tuesday so many years ago, yet one stands out.I watched the first tower fall with a group of Mankato East High School seniors and juniors, kids who are now in their 30s but who were the same age then as my oldest son is now.And not a single smart-aleck comment was uttered. There were no smirks. No jokes. No nothing except the sound of silence.It’s a moment that is seared into my brain and will remain there until I take my last breath.A lot of emotions are coursing through my veins today, as they do every Sept. 11. I’ve watched most every documentary made about that fateful day, yet seeing that second plane go into the Twin Towers — something I saw on the television at the Free Press — still hits me.For my boys, Sept. 11, 2001, and the days that followed are things for the history books.They have become young men in a society that is as fractured as anytime in American history. They have absolutely no clue how unified this nation was for the few weeks after Sept. 11.They know a world in which Democrats are the arch-enemies of Republicans and vice versa, yet for a few weeks in the fall of 2001, parties didn’t mean anything and America meant everything.Nine days after Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush delivered the speech of his life to a joint session of Congress, and he talked about the strength of his country.“We've seen the unfurling of flags, the lighting of candles, the giving of blood, the saying of prayers in English, Hebrew and Arabic.“We have seen the decency of a loving and giving people who have made the grief of strangers their own.“My fellow citizens, for the last nine days, the entire world has seen for itself the state of union, and it is strong.”It was, by far, the shining moment of George Bush’s presidency.Fifteen years later, many of us still feel that grief, and maybe, just maybe, we can travel back in time 15 years, for a moment, and remember that we aren’t Democrats or Republicans — or whites, blacks or Hispanics — but Americans.I know the naysayers are out there saying what a corny bunch of crap, but wouldn’t a better legacy to victims of 9-11 be to not wait for the next tragedy to strive for that unity?