“The years pass more quickly as we become older.”
– Arthur Schopenhauer.
Beg your pardon, you may be thinking, but – huh? – 20 years?
Well, unbelievable or not, what is a fact is that we’re coming up on 20 years – I repeat that, 20 years – since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Let that sink in.
Now please forgive the hyperbole, but so much has happened since that dreadful day, social upheaval, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the passing of the famous and not so famous, our loved ones and, of course, the devastating pandemic we’re currently dealing with. I have a final thought on the pandemic at the end of this narrative.
But first I wanted to share a repeat of the column Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. wrote on Sept. 11, 2001, right after we were attacked on that day:
“It’s my job to have something to say.
They pay me to tease shades of meaning from social and cultural issues, to provide words that help make sense of that which troubles the American soul. But in this moment of airless shock when hot tears sting disbelieving eyes, the only thing I can find to say, the only words that seem to fit, must be addressed to the unknown author of this suffering.
You monster. You beast. You unspeakable bastard.
What lesson did you hope to teach us by your coward’s attack on our World Trade Center, our Pentagon, us? What was it you hoped we would learn? Whatever it was, please know that you failed.
Did you want us to respect your cause? You just damned your cause.
Did you want to make us fear? You just steeled our resolve.
Did you want to tear us apart? You just brought us together.
Let me tell you about my people. We are a vast and quarrelsome family, a family rent by racial, cultural, political and class division, but a family nonetheless. We’re frivolous, yes, capable of expending tremendous emotional energy on pop cultural minutiae a singer’s revealing dress, a ball team’s misfortune, a cartoon mouse.
We’re wealthy, too, spoiled by the ready availability of trinkets and material goods, and maybe because of that, we walk through life with a certain sense of blithe entitlement. We are fundamentally decent, though — peace-loving and compassionate. We struggle to know the right thing and to do it. And we are, the overwhelming majority of us, people of faith, believers in a just and loving God.
Some people you, perhaps think that any or all of this makes us weak. You’re mistaken. We are not weak. Indeed, we are strong in ways that cannot be measured by arsenals.
Yes, we’re in pain now. We are in mourning and we are in shock. We’re still grappling with the unreality of the awful thing you did, still working to make ourselves understand that this isn’t a special effect from some Hollywood blockbuster, isn’t the plot development from a Tom Clancy novel.
Both in terms of the awful scope of its ambition and the probable final death toll, your attacks are likely to go down as the worst acts of terrorism in the history of the United States and indeed, the history of the world. You’ve bloodied us as we have never been bloodied before.
But there’s a gulf of difference between making us bloody and making us fall. This is the lesson Japan was taught to its bitter sorrow the last time anyone hit us this hard, the last time anyone brought us such abrupt and monumental pain. When roused, we are righteous in our outrage, terrible in our force. When provoked by this level of barbarism, we will bear any suffering, pay any cost, go to any length, in the pursuit of justice.
I tell you this without fear of contradiction. I know my people, as you, I think, do not. What I know reassures me. It also causes me to tremble with dread of the future.
In days to come, there will be recrimination and accusation, fingers pointing to determine whose failure allowed this to happen and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. There will be heightened security, misguided talk of revoking basic freedoms. We’ll go forward from this moment sobered, chastened, sad. But determined, too. Unimaginably determined.
You see, there is steel beneath this velvet. That aspect of our character is seldom understood by people who don’t know us well. On this day, the family’s bickering is put on hold. As Americans we will weep, as Americans we will mourn, and as Americans, we will rise in defense of all that we cherish.
Still, I keep wondering what it was you hoped to teach us. It occurs to me that maybe you just wanted us to know the depths of your hatred.
But you’re about to learn. “
So, COVID, you’ve snuffed out the lives of over 600 thousand of us. I give you that. But, repeating the words of Mr. Pitts, “You don’t know my people. You don’t know what we’re about. You don’t know what you just started.
But you’re about to find out!
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller, a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The Douglas County Sentinel, The American Diversity Report, The BlackMarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award.