COMMENTARY : In the Midst of 2020 Crises, Never Forget How We Came Together on 9/11

Special to HuntingtonNews.Net
Despite COVID the annual tribute will go forward.
Despite COVID the annual tribute will go forward.

[Editor's note:  This piece was originally published on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks].

by Jeanie Cheek

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was woken up by a ringing telephone.  It was 9 a.m. and I groggily answered it to hear a friend’s voice shouting “We’re under attack! Turn on your TV!  America’s being attacked!”

You can imagine my confusion and after a split second the words sunk in.  I bolted out of bed and turned on the big TV in my mother’s living room.  The live images of burning towers in New York City on every channel were in stark contrast to the beauty of the day unfolding outside. 
It was a perfect Indian Summer day in Huntington.  A day that challenges even the most dedicated students to skip class and enjoy those last delicious 70 degree afternoons before the fall rains hit. 
But that day there was a different reason to stay home and being outside had nothing to do with it. It was an inside day.  A day that most Americans stayed glued to their television sets and waited.    Like many others I watched in horror as one tower fell and then the other.  There were moments when I found it hard to actually register that what I was watching on the screen was happening in real time, here, in America.  And I remember seeing the looks of New Yorkers as they were being interviewed, the bodies falling from windows, the bloodied and tearstained faces of first responders. 
It was the most surreal day in my adult life. Period.  

I live in New York City now, about 3 miles from the World Trader Center site.  I often have to work in the area and grumble and complain about the traffic and all the construction. 

It has been a slow rebuilding process and I’ve heard occasional gripes from coworkers and friends regarding what a nuisance it has become.  I feel a strange pang of guilt when I hear them talk about 9/11.  I wasn’t here.  I didn’t volunteer.  I don’t identify with their pain or frustration.  I was elsewhere, frozen in front of a TV, watching Armageddon and wondering where the monsters would strike next.  Mine was a different fear.

On the 10th anniversary of the attacks, a great many sensational events have been planned.  Memorial services are in place and prominent political figures are scheduled to speak.  With the recent credible threat that Al Qaeda may be planning another attack this weekend, the city is on high alert and traffic and subway travel is hindered by security checkpoints.  It will be slow going for the next few days.  People are complaining a lot; in between putting up “Remember 9/11” posters and “Brunch Special” signs.  There isn’t a sense of fear regarding the threat warnings, just a hint of reverence in the air.  But just a hint. 

I have heard that many of the first responders and their families have not been invited to the memorial service at ground zero citing lack of space for them.  That seems wrong to me. 
I have heard New Yorkers slam George W. Bush for years.  That, too, seems wrong to me. 
Regardless of your political leanings, he did everything he could to galvanize this city after the attacks, pouring money and aid into New York and promising to bring to justice those who attacked innocent American civilians on that day.  In the 10 years since the attacks, New York has recovered and rebuilt, but I wonder how much of those days they actively remember. 
We are only asked to relive those moments once a year.  I think there’s validity in asking for a more regular reminder.

New York is an amazing city.  She is strong and resilient and full of interesting people.  But New York is also a wonderland.  It can spoil you with excess if you let it. 

This place has almost everything; the best food, music, museums, bookstores, shops, etc., and it’s easy to forget that most of the country doesn’t live this way.  It takes a lot to survive here, but it gives back, too. 

I hope that when people think of 9/11, they think of those men and women who ran toward the burning towers to help.  I hope they think of people from the rest of the country who stopped what they were doing and volunteered to go and be with the suffering and broken of NYC and DC.  I hope they think of the many Americans who re-enlisted in the military because they wanted to to something, anything, to uphold the freedom and safety of this country.

I hope they remember that for one moment.  The hearts of American’s beat as one.  We have forgotten that moment. 

We are a nation divided.  And it is my hope that on the anniversary of this tragic event, we can remember who we are as a country, and who the true enemy is, and come together in an honest pledge to NEVER FORGET.

A Marshall University theater graduate, and former Wayne County school teacher, Cheek, is a freelance costume designer and fashion/wardrobe stylist in New York. She worked as a production assistant on the "We Are Marshall" film.