September 11th, 2021

The Old Kingdom

Dept. of Memory


I was driving Andy to school, and we had NPR on the radio. A small plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers.

By the time I let Andy off at school, we both knew it was much, much worse.

I walked into our newsroom, and I was greeted by one of my colleagues. His face was ashen. He told me the latest rumor; a possible truck bomb outside a Washington government office. That turned out to be wrong, but too much was truly happening.

It was Tuesday, our weekly deadline. Our editors tore up our front pages, all our news pages.

We were sent out to our various Chicago suburban communities, to see and hear what was going on. We contacted our police departments. We talked to people on the streets, in the shopping centers, everywhere. 

I was covering Skokie, IL, at the time. It was a village that was home to a large Jewish community, including a still-large community of Holocaust survivors. Our little police department was covering all the synagogues, because even as the towers still stood, burning, they knew it was terrorism, and they wanted to protect those who might most be in danger. 

I went to the municipal library, where men and women stood in the lobby, watching a television placed high on the wall. One woman was furious; The CIA and FBI should have known this was coming, she said. They fell down on the job. 

I walked across the lawn to Village Hall, to talk to the mayor, a kind and very intelligent man who had been an aide to an Illinois congressman before becoming mayor.

We spoke very quietly. He looked at me and said, "Nothing will ever be the same." 

I went back to the newsroom, wrote up what I'd found, worked the phones, called Bob to make sure he was OK, since he worked, at the time, perilously close to Chicago's downtown. 

After the stories were sent off, we gathered in a corner office to watch the darkness unfold on a tiny black-and-white television. I heard Peter Jennings, rewatching one of the towers pancake, mutter "Dear Lord." I understood.

The world had changed. We knew it. 

Almost 3,000 victims, murdered by desperate and murderously foolish young men.

The echoes and vibrations of those deaths spread across the globe, because we wanted, somehow, to take action against the terror, to enact justice ... to take revenge. 

Hatred begat hatred, began fear, begat courage, began determination to do the right thing, begat confusion commensurate with the inchoate destruction we'd watched. 

Twenty years later, we must care for the living victims; we must look to each other for comfort, and we must extend that comfort to others, next door, across town, in every state, across borders, and around the globe. 

Everything has changed, indeed. May some of that change be positive if at all possible; may our hearts grow larger and our minds grow clearer, and our determination to be decent human beings stronger. 
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