The events on 9/11 at the Pentagon, in a field in Shanksville, Pa., and in Manhattan, that claimed nearly 3,000 lives from the age of 2 to 85, were so enormous they gave off a ripple effect we still feel today.
Even as life returns to a new state of normal with a routine that takes into account longer airport lines with ever-invasive searches, or news reports of possible terrorist attacks, we still feel the pain that so few caused so many.
Just 30 days after 9/11, on October 11th, 2001, I was in New York City with my son, Louie, who was only 13 years old, to appear as a guest on a national talk show. At the time, I lived in Richmond, Va., and I remember walking through the airport by the armed guards with automatic weapons. Louie was amazed by all of the weaponry.
We had been forewarned to use the restroom on the plane before we entered Washington’s airspace. Temporary FAA regulations stated no one but flight attendants could rise up out of their seats for any reason between Washington and New York. If we did, the flight would immediately land, and we’d be arrested.
However, the bathrooms were all locked from the start of the flight, and when I asked the flight attendant if I could use the bathroom, she nervously looked from me to my son, glancing back at the bathroom before reluctantly giving in to my request. It had to be miserable to be so scared for basic safety, her life, while she was just at work trying to do her job.
Louie, on the other hand, was an excited 13-year-old, who was oblivious to the tension in the air and peppered the flight attendant with questions. She visibly relaxed and thanked him by putting an enormous pile of those packets of peanuts in front of him.
He slept easily on the plane while I pretended to read a book. None of the adults on the plane ever relaxed.
The streets of New York were empty. I didn’t realize just how empty until six years later when I lived there and realized that never happens.
The taxi driver thanked us for being there and chatted away about how wonderful the city really is. Louie pressed his face up against the glass, and I realized at that moment that he had never been outside of our small town before that day. Nike had its own store, while back home, when the new mall opened, the mayor gave a speech and there was a festival. We went into Macy’s and walked around every floor.
In FAO Schwarz, there was only a handful of the company executives standing around and no customers. Again, we were thanked over and over again for visiting the city. One of the executives asked my son if he’d like to play in the celebrity room, and unlocked this special room full of over-sized, expensive toys. I have a picture of him sitting behind the wheel of a scaled-down $35,000 Land Rover.
That evening, the Empire State Building was to reopen for the first time at night, and we got there just as the sun was setting and all of the lights came up on the bridges and nearby buildings. The usual, pale yellow lights had been switched out for red, white and blue and all over the city we could see the patriotic light show.
Even though it was a dark night, the fires that still burned down at Ground Zero glowed and lit up that section of the sky in an orange glow that served as a backdrop to the city’s other lights.
Louie saw the entire city as magical and friendly and wanted to be allowed to go explore on his own. Everything was so quiet in comparison to the usual bustle, and everyone so friendly, that he missed how big the city really is and couldn’t understand why I said no.
I’ve always remembered how disparate the experiences were between Louie and myself and all because he could focus on what was right in front of him and I was still reeling from what was lost.
When we got back home, he told everyone it was the friendliest place he had ever visited.
The city was so welcoming even during the height of its grief. The location that had taken the biggest hit that bright Tuesday morning was the most determined to not only survive but embrace the visitors that found their way there again.
That’s our American spirit, and during these very tough economic times, when it can be so easy to pull ourselves apart at our differences, remember we also have a choice to work together for the common good.
That’s going to require us to recognize where we are similar, and compromise.
Tweet me @MarthaRandolph, and let me know what you’re doing in your community to come together. www.MarthaCarr.com.
Martha’s column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at Martha@caglecartoons.com.