Who were they?
The image is there, that huge plane flying so, so fast, and banking at the last instant and just, just disappearing into the building, just being swallowed and it doesn’t feel real.
I don’t want it to feel real but then that huge explosion and fireball, fire pushed out through the other side of the building, the entire other side of a huge building.
And the screams of shock and disbelief, and oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!!
The people on that plane.
The people in that building.
I don’t have to see the specials every year to see that image.
I think it’s permanently seared into my brain somehow, even if I don’t want it to be.
But I found out that I could push that image away, with practice.
I could choose others.
Heroes running toward the danger.
So many heroes, inside and outside those buildings.
Did you know that the passengers on United #93 took a vote before they rushed the cockpit?
Democracy stopped that hijacked flight from its intended target.
I can see them, huddling together in the back of the plane, understanding, explaining, voting, and then…acting, despite what they knew it would cost.
I can see ordinary people, like you and me, working together to help, to find some way to try to help, the ferries, all those boats coming to help take people away from danger.
I can see 4 firemen, carrying one of their own, dead, in a chair, and learned later he was a priest.
I can see people in my own town, far from Manhattan, flying American flags on their cars, at their homes, taking cookies and brownies and hugs to local firehouses.
I can see groups gathered in yards, kneeling in prayer, Democrat and Republican, white and black, Asian and Hispanic, heads bowed, arms across each others shoulders, asking God for comfort, for His very presence near those who had lost so much.
I can feel the unity all of us, as Americans, felt. It spread from house to house, and car to car. It was spoken out loud to anyone you passed.
It was spontaneous, and authentic, and intensely emotional.
And Radio played a huge part in that. You helped make that happen.
It was the only time in my life that I felt it without any dissent, without any footnotes, and it lasted for weeks.
We all came together as those buildings fell 15 years ago.
For a few days, we stopped seeing labels and color and class.
We looked into others’ faces and saw our own grief and responded as all humans are meant to, with compassion and humility.
Somehow, we found grace and tried to share it.
And sometimes, I’m not sure why, what the trigger is, I still see them…clearly, even now, 15 years later…
A man, a businessman, wearing a suit and tie, and a woman, a businesswoman, in a skirt and blouse…in my memory, she’s missing one shoe…
They’re falling through the air, falling from so high above, tumbling a bit now…
I heard later that the government, or maybe it was the families, did not want them to be called “jumpers” – because that connotes a choice, and those that fell really didn’t have a choice, did they.
But, here’s the thing, and I remember it so well, this image is so vivid…
That man and woman, who may or may not have even known each other, they were holding hands.
As if, even knowing what had to be done, and then doing it, they needed their shared strength, shared courage.
I can still feel the anxiety and anger and shock when I watch those events replay.
But today, for many years now, I choose to remember the good.
I choose to remember the heroes.
“O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!”
So many heroes that day and in the days following…
I choose to remember this quote, even if I don’t remember who said it:
“Above all, I hope that today’s events have shown you that life can go at a moment’s notice. Therefore, live it to its fullest. Take hold of the good that comes your way.”
That’s pretty good advice for every day.
Take hold of the good that comes your way, and share it on that big stage you have because someone hearing you undoubtedly needs it.
They need you to reach out and hold their hand to take the next step.
There’s no shame in that. We all need it eventually.
So, never forget. Never.
But I hope you choose to remember all the good.
So much good, rippling out through every American town and city, that it brought us together rather than pushing us further apart.
The United States of America.
We shouldn’t need mass murder to find that place again.
And, here’s the full show in case you missed it.
“America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!”