The distance between us and friends and family on both sides of the Atlantic had widened. We couldn’t mention prior rumblings of anti-Americanism or that we’d had concerns about George W. Bush’s haphazard diplomacy or the mid-August warnings to be vigilant. “You’re either with us or against us,” said the president whose domestic approval spiked from 53% to 83% in less than a week. But terrorism did not artificially inflate his approval in other parts of the world. Love of a country and respect for its presidency doesn’t necessarily translate to unquestioning love of a man and his policies.
Being the only house in this hemisphere displaying a newly handmade U.S. flag quilt may have made us a target but yes, we were with you. Of course we were. So were friends from the farthest corners of the world. Ireland declared a national day of mourning and most businesses closed. People prayed, held church memorials and vigils. Many Irish had strong connections to NYC. We attended a memorial service for a woman whose son had died in the twin towers. Another service commemorated all victims. The U.S. embassy fence was covered with notes, flowers and teddy bears expressing Irish love and solidarity with American friends. For the first (and maybe last) time, NATO applied its “all for one and one for all” principle and the attack on the U.S. was treated as an attack on all members.
Emails from the first week in September 2001 were a mishmash of CC: “shares”, personal concerns and expressions of anger and sorrow. Several shared Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts' column where he tried to articulate a diversity of thoughts from across our messy political spectrum:
By LEONARD PITTS JR. September 11, 2001
It’s my job to have something to say.
Let me tell you about my people. We are a vast and quarrelsome family, a family rent by racial, social, 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.
I wondered what Mr. Pitts would have to say about these times. Those who lived through September 11, 2001 will never forget that tragic day. But today Mr. Pitts chose to write about a national tragedy that we continue to forget as though we had the memory of a goldfish. Almost 3000 people died on that terrible day. It does not diminish our sorrow, anger or horror to recognize that senseless violence and loss of life did not begin on that day nor did it end on September 12th. Echos of 9/11 continue as a tragic Groundhog Day curse. Roughly every 40 days, Americans relive the pain of the senseless and violent deaths of 3000 fellow citizens. The end is not in sight.
Congress, the President, the American people and our allies came together after the September 11th attacks. They worked towards a shared goal of making sure this terrorist attack would not repeat. We swore that we would not ever forget. We told our children about it long before they could begin to understand. We hoped and prayed that this would never ever happen again. Many gave their lives to that cause.
And yet, for all we have done to avoid a repeat of the terrorist attack, the sorrow and violence have repeated more than 160 times since that day. More than 500,000 U.S. citizens have been killed by gun violence between September 11, 2001 and September 11, 2019. But we look the other way. We let our senators stonewall us. Our president distracts us. We make excuses and pretend that it isn’t happening.
Are we not indeed strong in ways that cannot be measured by our arsenals?