The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

September 7, 2010

9 years after 9/11: Time for reflection, rededication

David A. Knepper

“Take time to make time, for tomorrow it may be too late!”

– Poet David M. Romano, 1993

Lest we forget … The weatherman promised an absolutely lovely day with lots of  sunshine and clear skies in New York City on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. 

It began as a picture-perfect day for thousands of commuters headed into Lower Manhattan to jobs in the  World Trade Center’s twin towers. 

Some were sipping their doughnut-shop coffee. Others were chatting about the Yankees’ pennant chances.   

Still others were quickening their pace so as not to be late to the office.

And so it went.

Most likely, furthest from their minds was the thought that maybe they could die that day.     

Then at precisely 8:46:30 a.m., five hijackers flew American Airlines Flight 11 with 11 crew members and 76 passengers onboard into the north face of WTC 1.

Sixteen and a half minutes after that impact, five hijackers directed United Airlines Flight 175, with nine crew members and 51 passengers, into WTC 2. 

In fewer than two hours, both buildings had collapsed with little warning, claiming the lives of 2,606 people, including rescue workers and 147 people onboard the two jets. (Wikipedia)  

Another set of hijackers crashed a third airliner, American Airlines Flight 77, into the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., just outside Washington, D.C. 

A fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed into a field near the Somerset County village of Shanksville after some of its heroic passengers had attempted to retake control of the plane, which the hijackers had redirected toward D.C. 

In fewer than three hours, 2,976 innocent victims, who were going to work, were at work, traveling to see friends and family, going on vacation, or attempting valiantly to protect lives and property would enter eternity – and into this nation’s heart.

The days following 9/11 would reveal to the world once again that, through adversity, Americans never falter, never give up, and never forget our friends (or our enemies). 

The nation had entered into a period of mourning and healing. America wept.

Washington Irving, a 19th-century American writer, expressed eloquently: “There is sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief ... and unspeakable love.” 

Just as many of us can remember where we were and what we were doing when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, or when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, we remember where we were and what we were doing when the planes crashed into the twin towers.

Such recollections, however, do not reveal just how 9/11 was a “defining moment,” or teach us ways to avoid another 9/11-type tragedy.  

Today, we still don’t quite understand why it happened. Yet, it so clearly defined the ideals on which  this nation was founded – respect for individual freedom, personal liberty and the sanctity of life itself . 

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for some of us to forget the personal suffering inflicted upon the families and friends of those who were part of the 9/11 tragedy.

On this ninth anniversary of 9/11, let us reflect and rededicate ourselves, whether in our schools, our churches, our communities, within our families or with friends, or in our own privacy, to be less judgmental, less accusatory, less self-righteous and less self-important.

Let this day be our defining moment that can change our lives and those of others that we touch by what we say and what we do.

Whatever positive results that may come from those experiences, we should at least make a commitment this year to adopt a more positive attitude that is life-altering, rather than return to the cynicism that mars so much of modern life.

We owe the victims a lot more than living a life mired in self-pity and negativity. Their deaths have to mean something more. 

“And so, what is the meaning of 9/11? It lies with the lives lost. We honor those who died by recognizing the individual value of their lives and asking what we need to do to ensure that they have not died in vain.”                         - Educator Peter Bearse, Ph.D.

David A. Knepper is president of Allegheny Development Group LLC and is currently the executive director of the Forest Hills Regional Alliance. He holds a doctorate in educational administration from Penn State. His column appears the first Sunday of each month.