Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.
Since 9/11 I’ve been sitting here wishing I had the words to eloquently express my sadness, sense of loss and horror and condolences to the families of everyone who perished that day. I wanted to be poignant and somber and I wanted to be able to reach out via my keyboard and make people think. I wanted people to feel exactly what they felt on that Tuesday nine years ago. I wanted to say something that would, as that day had done, pull us all together as Americans. For one day there wasn’t a “you” or a “me.” That day, and the days shortly afterwards, we were all “we.”
I wanted to be able to make people remember, think, realize and hurt for just one moment — one moment in which to think about the families of those who died. One moment to remember the children growing up fatherless or motherless, the wives adjusting to life without husbands, the husbands without wives, the parents without children. One moment to try to put yourself in the place of someone who ended up giving up their life (and altering the lives of their loved ones) to save thousands of people they had never met.
I wanted to wonder aloud in my public forum about those rescuers, and the people who worked in the Twin Towers who stayed behind to help other people out. What kind of people are we underneath our daily faces? When the hustle to get to work, to get the kids off to school, to get your presentation finished, to stop at Starbucks, to…whatever. When the hustle and bustle of the insignificant things we fill our days worrying about becomes dramatically inconsequential…who are we?
Could I have stayed behind, fearing death, to help evacuate my offices? Could I have stood in the shadow of that towering blazing building with people screaming and running around, smelling the fuel, seeing people jumping from windows high above me and gathered enough courage to pick up my gear and run inside? Could I, as a passenger on Flight 93, have said to myself, “Okay, we’re obviously going to die anyway. Let’s make sure we take these guys out before they can do what they intend to do”? (And then have the presence of mind to formulate some sort of plan and make sure we were away from populated areas?)
I remember the man inside the South tower who called home to tell his family that he was fine, not to worry. Later, on their answering machine they heard him say it was the other tower that was on fire. He didn’t know what was happening, but he was fine. I can picture this man at his desk, maybe walking around a bit while he was talking. Then he must have turned his head to look out the window and saw a plane headed straight for him because just then on the answering machine tape he screams…. Then there is nothing. Imagine that being the last thing you have of your husband or your father. Imagine having that to replay over and over to add to your grief.
I wasn’t able to write anything before that day. On that day I couldn’t even bear to sit at the computer and make the attempt. One week and nine years later, all I can say with any clarity is,
“My heart is still broken.”