In those first days after, as we mourned those taken at the start of a routine workday, we also glimpsed the sacredness and connection hidden in our everday lives. It was largely this value that we honored in treasuring each of the 2,902 victims as individuals, and many of us vowed we'd always think about that day and that lesson. How have we done? Two years later, we asked people close to the 9/11 events, those who watch the country's spiritual life, and our own members how the attacks changed their lives, and to assess how well they and the nation are keeping to the spiritual promise of that time.
'You have to be active, not sitting and hoping everything's going to be okay.'
Lorie Van Auken, widow of Kenneth Van Auken, 47, who died in the World Trade Center
September 11 changed the way I look at the world completely. Before 9/11, I was a wife and mother. I had confidence and faith that politicians that we put into office were doing their job and didn't need to be watched 24/7. I assumed that just like I was doing my job raising my children and taking care of my house and going to the PTA, that they were doing their job too. And it turns out that they weren't.
I didn't know anything about the government. I didn't know the difference between the House and the Senate. And now I've learned a lot. I don't go on faith anymore. I realize you have to be active, not sitting and hoping everything's going to be okay. I don't look at the sky and say, "Oh, I hope this will work out." I get in my car and make it work out.
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.
So we have worked very hard to get back to "normal." We squabble among ourselves about homeland security and international conflicts. We flock to the malls, doing our part to restore the economy. We let our basement supply of water and batteries get low. Normal is feeling safe.