Twenty years ago today I walked into the refectory at Nashotah House after morning mass and wondered why the television was on. Normally people had their own theological issues to hash out over breakfast, so this was unusual. When I saw what was happening, I skipped breakfast and went home to my family. I remember the feeling of shock and terror of those days. America, I knew, wasn’t the innocent nation it projects itself as being. We had provoked, but none of that mattered as the isolationism of over two centuries on a mostly friendly continent crumbled. We were vulnerable. Living in the woods of Wisconsin there was no immediate danger, but the sense of confusion—and certainly the feeling that a less-than-bright president wasn’t up to handle this—made us all feel weak, even with the most powerful military in the world.
Yesterday the New York Times headlines ran a consideration on whether we’ve emerged better in the ensuing two decades. Looking at where we are—a deeply divided nation because a narcissistic president that the majority of voters voted against put (and still puts) his ego ahead of the good of the country—the answer seems obvious. It will take years, if not decades, to heal the damage that one man did. His putative party (really his only party is himself), seeing his popularity as their means to power, refuse to distance themselves. We simply cannot move forward. Not in the midst of a pandemic where Trump followers won’t get vaccinated causing new waves of the virus to surface and thrive. I’d like to think that on September 11 we might reflect—yes, I know it’s hard work—on how we all need each other.
Little could I have guessed in 2001 that a mere ten years later I would find myself working in Manhattan. Somewhere in my mind on every day of that long commute I wondered if something might again go wrong. On the bus I was thrown together with people of every description—well paid and just getting by, women and men, gay and straight, from all around the world—and we knew our fates were linked together. Differences had to be put aside. Selfishness has no room on a crowded bus. That was my introduction to life in New York City. Those who hear only the poison rhetoric of 2016 through 2020 should try commuting with an open mind. If we all took the bus, life after 9-11 might’ve turned out very differently.