The Steel In Us
by Diane Morrisey Published 09-12-2001
We'll go forward from this moment. It's my job to have something to say.
They pay me to provide words that help make sense of that which troubles the American soul. But in this moment of airless shock when hot tears sting disbelieving eyes, the only thing I can find to say, the only words that seem to fit, must be addressed to the unknown author of this suffering.
You monster. You beast. You unspeakable bastard.
What lesson did you hope to teach us by your coward's attack on our World Trade Center, our Pentagon, us? What was it you hoped we would learn? Whatever it was, please know that you failed.
Did you want us to respect your cause? You just damned your cause.
Did you want to make us fear? You just steeled our resolve.
Did you want to tear us apart? You just brought us together.
Let me tell you about my people. We are a vast and quarrelsome family. A family rent by racial, social, political and class division, but a family nonetheless. We're frivolous, yes, capable of expending tremendous emotional energy on pop culture minutiae -- a singer's revealing dress, a ball team's misfortune, a cartoon mouse. We're wealthy, too, spoiled by the ready availability of trinkets and material goods, and maybe because of that, we walk through life with a certain sense of blithe entitlement. We are fundamentally decent though -- peace-loving and compassionate.
We struggle to know the right thing and to do it. And we are, the overwhelming majority of us, people of faith, believers in a just and loving God.
Some people -- you, perhaps -- think that many or all of this makes us weak. You're mistaken. We are not weak. Indeed, we are strong in ways that cannot be measured by arsenals.
In pain, yes. We're in pain now. We are in mourning and we are in shock.
We're still grappling with the unreality of the awful thing you did, still working to make ourselves understand that this isn't a special effect from some Hollywood blockbuster, isn't the plot development from a Tom Clancy novel. Both in terms of the awful scope of their ambition and the probable final death toll, your attacks are likely to go down as the worst act of terrorism in the history of the United States and, probably, the history of the world.
You have bloodied us as we have never been bloodied before.
But there's a gulf of difference between making us bloody and making us fall. This is the lesson Japan was taught to its bitter sorrow the last time anyone hit us this hard, the last time anyone brought us such abrupt and monumental pain. When roused, we are righteous in our outrage, terrible in our force.
When provoked by this level of barbarism, we will bear any suffering, pay any cost, go any length in the pursuit of justice.
I tell you without fear of contradiction, I know my people, as you, I think, do not. What I know reassures me. It also causes me to tremble with dread of the future.
In the days to come, there will be recriminating and accusation, fingers pointing to determine whose failure allowed this to happen and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. There will be heightened security, misguided talk of revoking basic freedoms. We'll go forward from this moment sobered, chastened, sad. But determined, too. Unimaginably determined.
The Steel In Us, you see, the steel in us is not always readily apparent. That aspect of our character is seldom understood by people who don't know us well. On this day the family's bickering is put on hold.
As Americans we will weep, as Americans we will mourn, we will rise in defense of all that we cherish.
So I ask again: what was it you hoped to teach us? It occurs to me that maybe you just wanted us to know the depths of your hatred. If that's the case, consider the message received. And take this message in exchange: You don't know my people. You don't know what we're capable of. You don't know what you just started.
But you're about to learn.
My sister found this article in some Chicago newspaper (if my memory serves me right) September 12, 2001. We passed it along via e-mail and AOL. Every year for ten years now I have reposted this very same article on the latest and greatest means of social media – AOL, e-mail, MySpace, Facebook and this year Blogger. This article shook me – spoke volumes – found a way to voice every thought and feeling I had but didn’t know how to explain.
**I’ll be back later with more – I thought I could multi-task watching the memorial service and write – but I can’t…**
I was 17, about a week into my senior year of high school.
September 11, 2001 started normally – the struggle to get up and out of bed, to get dressed, to get out of the house looking somewhat dressed and actually drive to school instead of driving aimlessly skipping my first period (which was the school’s second period but seniors have privileges). I walked into my DECA/Marketing class as the bell rang, sat in my seat, propped my head up in my hand and prepared myself to ‘listen’ to Mr. Hunyadi rambling off one of the ten stories he told repeatedly day after day, year after year. I doodled and daydreamed – too cool for school and on top of the world (a slight case of senioritis!). The bell rang and I sprang from my seat. My next class was meeting in the library which was just a short walk away so I excitedly ran from the room to find my friends in the crowded halls. We hung out next to my friend’s lockers talking and laughing – oblivious and unaware of what was going on in planes that were possibly flying right over us at that very minute.
The next bell rang and we went our separate ways. Jackie, Jenn, Cassie and I walked together to the library and no sooner had we sat down and started working on our project that we were there to work on Mr. Javillionare told Mr. Geason what had happened. Mr. Geason (our English teacher) told us to stop what we were doing – that there was something on the news he felt we should be watching. He turned the big screen TV that was in the corner of the library on and we immediately stopped talking. We stared in disbelief. We watched smoke billowing from the North tower of the World Trade Center just 70 miles from where we sat. Our principal, Mr. Boules, announced over the loud speaker, “The North tower of the World Trade Center is on fire. We don’t know too much right now. For now we will remain in classes. I will let you know when we know more.” He chose his words carefully, keeping his statement simple. Being so close to NYC a lot of students parents worked in the city, even some in the World Trade Center.
It was surreal standing there mere minutes after talking and laughing with my friends. It was terrifying to think what the people inside that building were experiencing. Suddenly the South Tower was on fire – we saw the plane hit the second tower on live TV. Everyone gasped. Hands slapped over gaping mouths. Breath was held. My friends and I draped our arms over each other’s shoulders and fought tears. The silence was deafening – broken again by the principal over the PA system, “A plane has just been flown into the second tower. Teachers, the TVs are on in the library and the cafeteria. Please feel free to bring your students in to watch the news.”
I looked around and realized that only a handful of students and teachers not in my English class were in the library with us. If I had any other class, if we weren’t scheduled to be in the library that day to work on our project I wouldn’t have witnessed the second tower being hit. I realized we were of few students in our school that had seen it from the beginning.
We stood speechless staring at the TV as other classes poured into the library, it got overly crowded – standing space was limited but we all edged a little closer to each other, grateful for the company of others on this day, at this trying time. The principal announced each major even over the PA system “A plane has crashed into the Pentagon.” “A hijacked plane has crashed in a field just outside of Pittsburgh.” “The South Tower has collapsed.” “The North Tower has collapsed.” It was all so surreal.
At 8:30 that morning, everything was blissfully normal. It was a clear, bright blue skied, slight breeze, perfect weathered day. By 11:02 our planes had been used as weapons against us, our financial center was devastated – in a “Nuclear Winter”, cell phones wouldn’t work because too many people were trying to use them. We were instructed not to use our phones to free up signal for those in need as we shared towers with NYC. And when attacks stopped happening, when the FAA banned all flights anywhere in the US, the superintendent said we could go home. Those who could drive could leave as soon as their student ID pictures were taken (it was the beginning of the year tradition) and other students would be bussed home around 1:00. My friends and I streamlined to the auditorium being of the first to get our pictures taken before heading to our frequented hangout a mere coast down a hill from the high school – Whalen Pond. We hung out, solemn in comparison to our normal upbeat and laughing trying to figure out what to do with ourselves next. I don’t remember who said it – I think it was our friend Ghetto (Anthony) who said, “We should go donate blood". A brilliant idea indeed! We went to a church right up the road who constantly hosted blood drives for the American Red Cross and donated blood. We all felt great about it knowing that we were contributing somehow – that there was a good chance our blood could possibly be pumping into a victim that very same day.
After that we went our separate ways. It was nearing our normal dismissal time from school and we all had after school jobs we needed to get ready for. I drove home, passing the high school, my windows down in my Ford Escort and the radio up perhaps a little too loud trying to push reality out of my head even if it was only for the 5 minute drive. And then this song came on – and I couldn’t help but think how appropriate it was… to seconds later realize it had already been ‘remixed’ with clips of the broadcasts throughout the day.
I pulled into my driveway to see my sister’s cars both there and I knew my mom and dad weren’t working either. I was never so grateful to see a full house. I ran in and sat with my family watching the video footage of the destruction along the East coast for awhile before getting ready for work.
At work the halls were quiet. A lot of parents had picked their kids up early and understandably so. The normal chatter and laughter from kids was nonexistent and was replaced with am radio – the whole building listening to the same station. The TV in the office playing the same footage over and over. I took some of the babies outside, after all it was a gorgeous late summer tinged with the smell of fall. It was a perfect day that left me hoping that the morning was all a bad dream. That a little over the hour away from where I stood it wasn’t really hell on Earth. It was eerily quiet – with an airport not far away both to the East and West of us planes were always flying pretty low around us. Normally there were at least two planes an hour flying low but that day there was nothing but silence. Nothing but a clear blue sky overhead.
I went home after work and the TV was still blaring – still replaying the gut wrenching videos from earlier that morning. Not even twelve hours later and I knew precisely when to flinch. “That puff of smoke and then the plane crashes into the second one”. Eerie, surreal, unbelievable… nauseating. I had to walk away then. I simply couldn’t watch it anymore. I couldn’t think of people still alive in the rubble. I couldn’t think of what the search and rescue crews were finding. I needed to be ignorant for awhile. I went into my room and put a Friends rerun on, again grateful for ‘familiar faces’ and humor… but then there was one of Friends typical NY skyline views between scenes and my stomach flipped. “They’re not there anymore. I’ll never walk by and look up again even though Erica always told me not to because that made me look like a tourist.” I was no tourist. My family, friends and I frequented the city. I walked past those towers hundreds of time – but every time I walked by them I always looked up. It was dizzying, amazing what humans could do, beautiful and breathtaking.
(we were all sorts of hot – I don’t know how accurate this is but the back of the picture says 9-11-94 – who knew what 7 years from that day could hold)
Every September 11, I watch the memorial service or record it if I have to be somewhere. On the one year anniversary I was at Country Kids with 13 babies and 3 other women working with me. We were listening to the radio and participated in the moment of silence – and in that minute all the babies even fell silent. It was beautiful… and creepy. There was a huge storm in Connecticut and New York that day with treacherous winds and driving rains. A lot of the area was without power. A blue sky day would have been too hard to take that day – God knew it. So He gave us rain, showed us His fury. It was only fitting.
That day changed me as I am sure it changed every person in America. It made us realized that threat was ever present. That in the middle of a clear blue perfect day things could go wrong. It made us realize that even with our strength and our security measures things still could happen. It was humbling and eye opening. It made you appreciate the things you had – your job, your family, your house. The things that we take for granted without even realizing it.
In memory of all who have fallen and in honor of those who risk their lives and well-being for our freedom and safety – I will NEVER forget! ~*~9-11-01~*~
(photos by me – Field of Flags in Kent, CT – August 2010)
Hug those you love a little tighter tonight.
Thank whomever you believe in for what you have – as well as our soldiers.
I cannot believe it has been 10 years already.
We will always remember! God Bless! I <3 NYC!