8:48 a.m. 9/11: A time to remember

October 07, 2001|By Andrew A. Buerger

SLOWLY WE Americans return to our routines. Of course, it's with more American flags and a deeper awareness of security. And some of us still seem lethargic, are reluctant to go out, afraid to celebrate in large crowds, hesitant to enjoy, nervous about long-distance travel.

More than three weeks after the attacks on America and Americana, we still have deep and unanswered questions. But perhaps we're not asking the core question, the one that will enable us to stop periodically thinking if we will soon be caught up in what seems like a new - but horrifyingly real - Die Hard Bruce Willis movie script.

True, no matter what we do, the reality is that every morning when we wake up, the World Trade Center is still gone. For some, including my colleagues' friends and relatives, are officially listed as missing. With teary eyes, we know they are never coming back. For all, our conscience is indelibly marked with pain. How can we heal - just enough to get on with the business of living?

For certain, we need the comfort of routines. But I worry. Will we lose - or dangerously suppress - the collective unity created by this tragedy? And how can we move on without disparaging the victims' memory?

For starters, throughout this tragedy I saw signs of hope. We flocked to houses of worship. We sang "God Bless America." People became more civil. Fathers held babies tighter. We rushed home after work to be with family.

So do we really want to return to "normal," or do we want to embrace the positive changes resulting from this searing pain?

We must acknowledge that since the terrorist attack, our values have changed.

Previously, our culture was obsessed with what movie stars wore to the Oscars. We looked up to professional athletes and overlooked their crimes.

Now our heroes are the unknown people who defied common sense by rushing into burning buildings to save strangers. Others rushed hijackers, sending themselves to knowing death as well. Today, we take note of Hollywood celebrities wearing "NYFD" and "NYPD" hats, not their designer shoes. Many problems seem less substantial.

Like many people, I have turned to my religion. Despite years of rebellion against its rules and rigidity, I am comforted in troubling times. My Jewish culture has something to teach all Americans.

Judaism, with its history of collective tragedies, has powerful rituals that enable us to move on while not forgetting those slaughtered by hate.

Ever wonder why a groom stomps on a glass at a Jewish wedding's end? It's to remind us that, despite the moment's incredible joy, the great temples of Jerusalem - God's residences - were destroyed by callous human beings.

America needs a ritual to forever remember the attempted destruction of our freedom and liberty, an act that took more than 6,000 souls.

A simple national holiday won't do. Does Memorial Day really pay tribute to those who gave their lives to defend our values? Or is it a boon for the barbecue lobby?

The purest memorial I have found is in Israel.

Regardless of your stand on that nation's politics, one cannot debate the country's skill in acknowledging permanent pain.

Memorial Day there - the 24 hours before the joyous Independence Day - is deeply somber. At one point, sirens sound and the entire country literally stops. Cars pull to the side of the highway; people get out and stand silently next to their vehicles. On the sidewalks and in offices, people bow their heads.

America needs that ritual.

Every Sept. 11, at 8:48 a.m., we must sound our emergency sirens. People must stop and take note. And reflect. It will help us remember what's important, what we have to defend.

I hope that our world is changing for the better. I hope we no longer take our peace and liberty for granted. I hope we continue to worship our real heroes and leaders.

We can best guarantee that via secular rituals to remind ourselves about what really is important. And, together, we can work hard to build an even greater, more tolerant and promising country.

Andrew A. Buerger is publisher of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

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