Lantern file photo
I was sitting in a world religions seminar on Sept. 11, 2001. I had just turned 16. As I sat amongst my classmates and our teacher, I am not sure that I even heard the headmaster banging on the locked door, demanding that our teacher turn off his television. It was a seminar in which we were to learn all of the tenets of this world’s religions. Instead we witnessed all the perversions of religion. We watched silently, as the headmaster banged on the door, until the Twin Towers fell.
Years later, I came across a picture I took of the Financial District from one of New York City’s ferries in 1999. In this photo, the towers stood in a different time, a different world. But when a plane flew toward the towers two years later, what was a means of transportation emerged from years of hijackings as a terrorist’s avenue of destruction.
In early January 2005, I stood looking down into Ground Zero and I began to wonder what became of that world. As I slowly drank my coffee, lit my cigarette and began to walk away, the thought of the death of Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida and mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks, was nowhere within my mind. A loved one at my side, only the thought of loss was in my mind, as I threw away my coffee, stomped out my cigarette and pulled her under my arm.
On Sept. 10, 2011, I inadvertently ended a 13-mile run at that same spot, and on Sept. 12, 2011, I stood just on the other side of where I stood that cold January night, a fence still there. I walked among young trees, memorial pools, clear skies, American flags and families, with the ever-present dim sound of water falling. And there, just months after the man who had cleared that space with redefining violence was placed into the sea, I was sure that the decade of Osama had come to an end. And with his death nowhere in my mind, I exhaled.
Families forever torn apart by that day will never know what world that little picture held. Weddings, graduations, proms and playoff games occur without parents and spouses; offices still miss loyal employees, colleagues and loved ones. Yet as I stood there, looking down into the memorial pools, what was clear is that although those families live a life without their loved ones, unlike bin Laden, those losses will never be confined to a page in history. Their names forever engraved, imbued with the spirit tears were shed for, are forever with us, reminding us the names of Sept. 11 are not Osama bin Laden and those of the hijackers, but those that were taken from us.
As the first anniversary of bin Laden’s death came and went, we can begin to hope the evil have become confined to the pictures of the past 10 years, while the strength of the victims’ families, the soldiers and diplomats, the politicians and the volunteers build a span between that old picture and the world we embark into.
There are still countless years of loss and sacrifice to come, but like the building of that World Trade Center memorial, these years will be measured by choices we will make and not by choices brought halfway around the world with the belief that America can be measured in loss.