In our grief we recall nation's essence

September 30, 2001|By Jonathon Fuqua

WHEN THE twin towers fell and a cloud of dust rose in mournful tatters over the streets and buildings of lower Manhattan, we found it nearly unfathomable that, right before our eyes, so many had died.

It was a heart-wrenching moment that was further amplified by new and unfamiliar fears.

We wondered what was next. What public building in which American city would burn? What community would get sucked of life? How many of our people would die?

And we continue to wonder these things.

For the first time in many of our lives, the future is murky. No one can guarantee what the week, the month or the year holds, and that has shaken all of us to our foundations.

The sound of a jetliner overhead elicits glances and small calculations as to its altitude and angle. And why shouldn't it? We have seen them used as missiles.

At night, our children take on new meaning, their innocence both a balm and an expanding wound, for they are the white hot points of our unequivocal love, and to love so much makes us vulnerable and weak in our souls. We hug our children, and we wish protection, safety and the ability to guarantee elements of their adulthood. We can't help but imagine them without us, and it is a harrowing, disquieting vision that hovers at the edges of our animal minds.

In solidarity, we think of those who lost fathers and mothers and spouses and friends in hijacked planes and destroyed buildings, and we know, because we suddenly see it so clearly, that it is others who give our existence value and meaning. In the wake of that realization, we are unexpectedly diminished by the loss of so many, by the damage that terrorists have inflicted upon people we don't even know. We feel deep, unsettling empathy, and we should.

So we give unheard of amounts of money to the Red Cross, hoping that it will do some good, hoping that it will mitigate small pains. This is the new world, the new America that formed and solidified as the once-majestic twin towers fell, as the Pentagon licked in flames, as we studied the skies wondering what was next.

Further, in the days that followed, we as a nation began to grieve for a gift that had been forgotten, for that slender, optimistic vision of the future we'd taken for granted.

However, in the collective, inarticulate grief that followed such a galling loss of life - a tragedy inflicted upon us by murderous men claiming spurious moral ground for ungodly acts - we have recalled the essence of our nation, that it was built on honorable principles, that we as a country are inexorably linked to the lives of people we don't know, that we love our children more than ourselves and that our larger mission is to help create a peaceful, equitable world.

The days move on. Our leaders weave an international coalition for a war on terrorism. Meanwhile, we wait, half-cringing, for a new, unspeakable tragedy. Somehow, though, we need to find courage in the people who are gone and all of those who remain, for we have reawakened and know with a revitalized sureness that children who lost parents are not without guardians. We have come together as a people.

Without a doubt, there is immeasurable brilliance and force in a free nation - a nation of disparate cultures, beliefs and religions - honing its purpose and rediscovering its purpose and empathy. We care for our people, every one of them, and we will not go like lambs.

Jonathon Fuqua, a Baltimore writer, is author of The Reappearance of Sam Webber (Bancroft Press, 1999), a winner of the 2000 Alex Award.

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