It’s painful casting back to that Tuesday morning. On Sept. 11, 2001, we were working furiously to put out our nexus of newspapers, looking forward to our first edition in color coming out the next day. We chose a picture with a yellow school bus for the front page to celebrate. Tuesday deadlines were all-consuming in those days. As managing editor, I didn’t have a moment to focus on much else from 7 a.m. till 1 p.m. So when I walked into Dan Haley’s office mid-morning to ask a question, and he said, “They’re gone,” I had no idea what he was talking about.
“What’s gone?” I asked.
“The two towers,” he said.
I knew about the planes hitting the towers, but that’s all I knew. Suddenly, the world changed. It took hours after deadline for it to sink in. I didn’t see any of the images for a long, long time because I couldn’t bear to watch the coverage.
I wrote about it the next week and the week after, then just before Christmas. I marked the anniversary in 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2011 in my column. Then I let it go.
Here are a few excerpts from what I wrote:
9/19/2001, Understanding the hatred
“Yes, hatred. The last door down the long hallway of the basement of our emotions. Hatred either makes you crazy or crazy people are the only ones capable of it. I don’t know which, and I really don’t want to know, but I must and so must all of us. It’s the only way to protect ourselves. It’s the only way to make the world safe.
“As one people, we need to walk down that long hallway and, without hatred, open the very last door. … We need to understand why so many people around the world hate us.
“Many would like to see this as a battle between good and evil. But the world isn’t that devoid of gray. We aren’t all good. They aren’t all evil. We aren’t as evil as they think. They aren’t as righteous as they believe.
“I suspect what we’ll find behind the last door is that this is actually a war between the haves and have-nots. … And it’s a war the haves cannot win — not forever. We cannot sustain a world where the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider. The wider it gets, the worse the backlash. No amount of might is powerful enough to contain it.
“If we want a safer world, we need a fairer world. There is no alternative. …
“Yes, of course, bring these terrorists to justice. But if we want to win the war, we must bring justice to the world.”
12/19/2001, A pre-Christmas sermon on Sept. 11
“Christmas is the story of the poor, the unprotected, the vulnerable, undermining minor powers like Herod and major powers like Rome. It is the story of simplicity and humility and the awesome power contained within each. … Christmas is the story of pulling the rug out from under those who don’t want the world to change. It is about telling the world it must change.
“On Sept. 11, when I heard about the first plane hitting the first tower in New York, my first thought was, ‘We need a better world, a world more just.’ … In the absence of justice, there will always be terror. An unjust world cannot be sustained forever by any power. If not a baby in a manger, then Yeats’ rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouching toward Bethlehem to be born. This year it didn’t slouch. It flew — packed with jet fuel, into several of our most prominent symbols.
“Christmas offers another version of subversion — a non-violent version, where the only pyrotechnics take the form of a star, impossibly bright, suspended overhead, beckoning, summoning the better angels of our nature.
“As Tennyson said, it is never too late to seek a newer world, a better world, a world more just. This world is finished. The powers du jour just don’t know it yet. Neither did Herod. Neither did Rome.
“The world changes, in spite of those in power.”
9/17/2003, Mourning in America is over
“The second Sept. 11 since the terrible attack was much different from the first. It surprised me. … Evidently it’s no longer mourning in America. …
It was wholly and wonderfully ordinary, a night of unsurpassed peace — what many the world over want, what we have come to represent: peace and prosperity.
“Two years ago this night, America was deep in mourning, and we have grieved long and hard, but no matter how loudly we promise to remember, it is almost impossible to keep life from sweeping us downstream. It’s not that everyone has forgotten 9/11. Far from it. We simply can’t help moving on, carried by the relentless current of now. … This year we are experiencing collectively the unsettling feeling that many of us have known privately — when we first realize we’re beginning to let go of grief. …
“The Harvest Moon is higher now in the sky, yellow, a reminder that we reap what we sow.
“Let’s sow this.
But we did not sow peace. We sowed war. We pursued vengeance, and vengeance never heals.
Let’s hope that leaving Afghanistan will free us up to learn an important lesson: that we need to get out of the nation-building business once and for all.
Our time of healing — and rebuilding our own nation — lies ahead.
But we need more than a monument to remember 9/11. We need a living memorial that reflects the courage shown that day, the extraordinary efforts to help and to heal, and the hoped-for national unity that didn’t last.
The only memorial worthy of those who died, and those who survived, is a better country.
And a more just world.