As the victims of Hurricane Irene repair their flooded homes, new winds over the ocean whip in circles. Some will peter out, while others will twist and writhe into gigantic storm cells that threaten our coastlines. This pattern is repeated year after year, and we cope with the destruction as life goes on.
This year, the East Coast survived Irene. In 2008,Texas survived Ike. In 2005, the Gulf States survived Katrina. In 2003, the Mid-Atlantic survived Isabel. Each time, the affected people dealt with their losses, gathered with their communities and rebuilt their lives.
A decade ago, we were hit by a destructive cell bigger than any hurricane. It was the Storm of Terrorism and it rained down on us on September the 11th, 2001.
Ten years after the devastation of 9/11, has ourAmerican Wayof Life survived the storm intact? What is unique about how Americans react to disasters, both natural and manmade?
When Hurricane Isabel roared through the Mid Atlantic States in September 2003, my family of five was gathered around a battery operated radio in our family room inVirginia Beach, nervously listening to news of the storm’s path.
On September 11th, my family was gathered in that same family room, shocked by the news of the first plane crashes.
During one of Isabel’s howling gusts, our house was suddenly slammed with something that shook the foundation. I instinctively grabbed the kids and headed to a doorway in the center of the house, while my husband ran out onto our porch to investigate. “It’s bad, Honey! Really bad!” he yelled, darting back into the house and up the stairs. When he finally joined us, he reported that a 90 foot pine tree had uprooted and fell through our roof, breaking through the second floor ceiling.
As we stood within five feet of our television screen on 9/11, with the children at our feet, I gasped loudly and put my hands to my mouth when the Twin Towers collapsed to the ground.
In both situations, our children were too innocent to understand what was happening. They had never experienced hurricanes or terrorism. Both times, they watched my husband and me, trying to make sense of it all, and both times, our children reflected our fear.
Not more than a minute after the tree hit, our neighbors shuttled the kids and I to their house, while the men braved 100 mph gusts to anchor tarps over the gaping hole in our roof. That night, we tried to sleep on the neighbor’s floor while our minds raced with thoughts of the damage, the deductible, reconstruction, and loss.
Once we were able to grasp the horrific events of the 9/11 terror attacks, our minds raced with thoughts of the devastating loss of life, the mind boggling acts of heroism, and the inevitable war to come. The tragedy was almost too much to bear.
The day after Isabel spun her way northward, we awoke to a beautiful, sunny day, and although there was much work to do, we were grateful to be alive and felt a new appreciation for our family and our neighbors. People on our street shared water, tools and generators. On our gas grill, I cooked up all the thawing steaks, sausages, bacon and eggs from our powerless refrigerator, and passed breakfast out to the neighbors. Even the most recluse of our neighbors was out on the street, willing to lend a helping hand.
Similarly, in the days after the 9/11 attacks, Americans from every race, political party, and socio-economic group banded together and displayed unbridled patriotism, the likes of which our country had not experienced in decades. Flags flew on every street. Neighbors, friends and family reached out to connect, enlist, volunteer and donate. Despite the divisive views on the War on Terror now, back then it was clear to everyone that the US had to show the rest of the world that no one can attack Americans and get away with it.
It is as if these destructive events serve to remind Americans of how good we have it. After these storms, whether natural or manmade, the clouds of political divisiveness and floodwaters of our daily routines disappear. We can suddenly see our lives clearly, and find new appreciation for our families, our communities, and our nation.
But since the 9/11 attacks, our collective visibility has been overcast with the minutia of the War on Terror, the controversy over the 9/11 memorial site, claims of corruption in charitable fundraising, and other complicated political issues. Our ability to clearly recall the injustice of the 9/11 attacks has eroded. Instead of banding together to stand against such forces of destruction, we are fighting with each other.
On this, the tenth anniversary of the senseless terrorist attacks on our shores, let’s put our differences aside. Bring to mind that fateful day and how it felt. Think of those who lost their lives in the attack and the heroic rescues. Honor the military members who continue to fight so that terrorism will not make landfall in the United States again. Harness those emotions, memories and patriotism. Be grateful for our families, our communities, our nation, and the one thing that no storm or terror cell can destroy – our uniquely American way of life.