September 11: We Could Call It ‘One Day’

We could call it One Day

Remember the flags in front of homes in every neighborhood? Remember the heartfelt respect we New Yorkers showed firefighters and police officers? Remember the unity every community experienced, and how wholesome and right that felt?

Sadly, it’s getting harder to recall those days now, amid the rancid air of hyper-partisanship and group-think. Flag-waving patriotism and public demonstrations of praise for those who risk their lives in our service are now as likely to get you vilified as imitated.

When the planes crashed into the twin towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, the whole nation felt the impact. While we grieved in Valley Stream and Rockville Centre, from Long Beach to Elmont, Americans mourned, too, in Denver and Detroit, in D.C. and in Dallas. Indeed, so did Parisians and Dubliners, citizens of Rio and Tokyo. The whole world joined us in grief.

Are we like long-grudging relatives who keen loudly together at a wake, and then, after the burial, revert to their mutual distrust and hardly speak again?

How do we commemorate the horrible attacks of Sept. 11? Each of us will do so in our own way, of course. A firefighter’s widow; a child who never knew his executive father; the siblings of a woman killed on the aircraft that crashed in Shanksville; the 25-year-old student who remembers 9/11 only from seeing it on TV when he was 10; the journalists who attended the funerals and wrote of the homilies; the soldiers who volunteered soon after the smoke cleared; the new firefighters who joined as soon as they were old enough, in honor of their fathers — all felt, and feel, the impact, but differently.

President Obama declared Sept. 11 a Day of Service. We’d add another suggestion: a Day of Unity. One day, among all the bitter internal strife and political mockery. One day, amid the grasping for power, the arrogant insinuations that some of us are better than others. One day, while all the other days remain available for some to stomp on symbols of freedom in the name of “I’m entitled,” for all of us, once again, to wave our American flags proudly, salute firefighters as the trucks scream by, thank a police officer, publicly praise first responders for their courage, find a way to honor a member of the armed services. Just one day to put aside our differences and arguments.

We could visit one of the many local, town and county memorials and reflect on those lost, and on how constructive our days of unity were right after the attacks.

While the terrorists sought to divide and destroy, we could overwhelm their cowardice with unity, and with the belief that, acting together, we can build and create.

We could call it One Day.

John O’Connell is the executive editor of the Long Island Herald. This article was published as an Editorial in the Herald Community Newspapers, Long Island, New York, on Sept. 8, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

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