9/11: Why We Still Have to Talk About It

Two years later, the 9/11 attacks provoke Americans to reflect on some big questions about faith and the human spirit.

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I've become an activist. I went to Washington to demand an independent commission to look into [the failures of government agencies] from the White House on down. It was like grabbing onto a high-voltage cable, the anger that you feel. The difference is your reaction--do you kill innocent women and children, or do you pound on the door of your government?

The word "closure" for me is kind of a farce. I don't think we'll find closure. I don't think you ever move on--you move through a process. It seems completely unreal. The last message my husband left me on my machine was, "I love you very much." Just now I was sitting here and thinking, I can't believe my husband is dead. Where is he? I forgot for a minute. My daughter Sarah won't get on a plane. She calls them "scare planes" and says that we all have an "11" on our foreheads from furrowing our brows because of 9/11.

'"Normal" is a mirage. It's death that is real and certain.'
Diane L. Knippers, president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy

I have painful memories of 9/11 and its aftermath, but I also recall good things. There was a sense of national unity I relished. We broke through some of our divisions--black or white, Republican or Democrat, even Christian or Muslim or Jew. We grieved together. I savored the common purpose, respect, and consideration for strangers. It's largely gone, and I miss it.


Then there was the fear. Since 9/11, those of us in the Washington area have endured the anthrax scare, Code Orange alerts, and the sniper attacks. One weekend, I suddenly balked at going downtown to a rally. I had simply gotten very tired of being brave.

Then, I was diagnosed with cancer, and all those "out there," unarticulated fears became clearer. I'm going to die, I realized. It may come decades from now, or it could come soon. After my diagnosis, I read Richard John Neuhaus's little book, "As I Lay Dying," written as he faced cancer. It was a relief to read his bracing comment that, "all our progress and all our protest notwithstanding, the mortality rate holds steady at 100 percent." My friends and family want to talk about a cure or a miraculous healing. But I need to face my death as well. I want to be ready for this next, inevitable step.

That's precisely what we faced on 9/11. On 9/11, we Americans saw death. Most of us aren't remotely ready to die; we prefer euphemisms and denial. The death of thousands haunted us. That's what we still don't want to face.

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