Remembering Sept. 11 a little differently

Len O'Kelly

I woke up the morning of Sept. 11 and, as I do every morning, checked my news feed to see what I had missed overnight. The news feed looks different Friday than it did the day before. It was filled with slickly produced graphics imploring me to “remember” and “never forget.” Almost every one of these photos features the former World Trade Center towers prominently in its center.

I, however, choose not to remember buildings on Sept. 11.

Instead I will remember a feeling of helplessness. I was working in news/talk radio that morning and could not believe what I was seeing, yet was compelled by duty to describe and report it. I ended up offering what amounted to play-by-play coverage of the deaths of thousands of Americans at the hands of an as-yet unidentified enemy. After a few hours we yielded the airwaves to network coverage, and I sat quietly in my office, thinking “What comes next?” I didn’t know the answer to that question, and I remember being scared about what I did not know.

I will remember people. People like you and me who, when they woke up that morning, had no idea it would be their last day on Earth. They boarded airplanes. They went to work. They did not come home to their families that night. They were the victims of the most horrific act of terrorism on American soil. The buildings have been repaired or rebuilt. The people will never be replaced.

Most importantly, I choose to remember what America was like in the days and weeks after the attacks. We looked out for each other. We supported each other. We looked out for and looked in on our neighbors. We strengthened our resolve. We set aside petty differences to come together as a nation. We did not allow race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other artificial construct to separate us as a people into disparate groups. We were willing to ignore contrasting ideologies for the one thing that united us: our status as American citizens. We flew the flag – the flag of the United States – properly and proudly. That was the flag we defended.

Sadly, I can only say that I “remember” the last thing because it seems to only exist in my mind. I cannot remember a time, at least in my lifetime, when we have been more divided as a people. We are quick to reject other Americans without at least listening to what they have to say. We make assumptions about “how American” people are based on the way they look or sound. We shout down expression as if volume always wins an argument.

We don’t have to be that way. We can pull together – and work together – for the good of our nation. Rather than remember a time like that, I’d prefer to live in a time where that was the case. I pray that it not take something as awful as the tragedy we commemorate today to get us back to that place.