We all watched. We all wept. We searched for answers that never really came in any satisfiable manner.
There was a brief window - one of those where you know you've been taken to your knees, but you look around and everyone you know is there too, on their knees, struggling to rise to their feet, and you realize that - collectively - it can be done. We can lift up each other, we can join hands and pull one another from the spiritual rubble that surrounds us and make a fresh start.
Maybe. Just maybe, there would be a silver lining somewhere amid all the tears and blood.
But, it didn't last for most. Soon, we had to take sides - maybe we were forced to, in many ways. The division has never healed.
Culturally, we were told this moment in time marked 'the death of irony' and that we would soon see America flocking back to the comfort of such simple pleasures as "The Andy Griffith Show". It didn't happen. The pendulum just kept swinging the same direction, and we buried ourselves in more escapism, more reality television, and more trivialities that have soaked away our energies.
Unfortunately, some of the people who DID start asking the bigger questions came to divisive answers. Quests for what unites us morphed into opportunities to demonize other religions, nations, and cultures.
I don't wanna say the bad guys won. They didn't. But, we have proven that our nature is - in the short term - to do good, to help those struck by tragedy, and to unite as a nation regardless of our vast differences. But our long term approach seems more ego-based. More self-serving. More steeped in fear than forged from hard won awareness of our interdependence.
Most people would look around at our country ten years after the terrorist attacks and say 'we're a mess'. They'd be right, in many respects. But the seeds we planted back in the days that followed are still ripe for growth. The seeds that could help us move toward a better understanding of one another, a bit more compassion, and maybe - just maybe - the ability to solve some of our greatest problems.
Many people said, a year or so after Autumn 2001, that we should be made to watch the towers fall every day on TV, to remind us of our resolve and who our enemies are and what they did. That seems a little misguided to me. Instead, I think we should see images of the heroes, the spirit, and the unity that took place in the days that followed. I think we should hear the songs that played on the radio that week - ones that reminded us that we're all in this together. Democrats and Republicans joining hands. Hell, Yankees and Red Sox fans in full embrace.
My daughter once asked me why they haven't rebuilt the towers. I told her mostly out of respect for what happened there. But steel and mortar only result in symbolism. True respect is in the actions we take - our leaders take - every day. And the least we owe everyone who was touched by what happened that horrible day is to try and rekindle just a bit of that empathy and understanding toward one another.
The media will work hard to ensure we don't. Our leaders on both sides of the aisles have no interest in breaking down the walls of partisanship. So, once again, it's up to us. You. Me. Us.
We are the ones who can fill an Empty Sky.
Bruce Springsteen - Empty Sky - YouTube