It’s hard to believe that Wednesday will mark one year since America watched in horror as two majestic towers crumbled against the Manhattan sky.
But what would become known as the worst act of terrorism against the United States wasn’t over yet. Two more hijacked planes would crash and burn — one into the Pentagon and the fourth in a field in central Pennsylvania.
Nothing would ever be the same for this country or its citizens. Names once foreign to American ears like Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda would forever become etched in our collective psyche.
Like most significant events in world history, such as Pearl Harbor, the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the death of Princess Diana, everyone is bound to have a recollection of where they were when they heard the news. "Nine-11 will be in that category, only a lot stronger because of our technology today — seeing the buildings come down, the actual planes going into the buildings," noted state Rep. Robert Donatucci (D-185th Dist.). "Technology will renew the pain. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing. People will remember what they had for lunch that day and whom they called after it happened."
The legislator said he was driving down I-95 when he heard a plane had hit the first of the Twin Towers.
"It gives you the chills thinking about it," he said. "It’s still hard to believe that something like that could happen to us."
As the nation approaches the first anniversary of Sept. 11, feelings of anxiety, anger, fear, grief and depression may grip us all over again, said Richard Weiner, a clinical psychologist and director of education and training at Friends Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia.
Anniversaries often trigger emotions, be they positive or negative, he said.
"It’s a common clinical phenomenon. It’s not new with Sept. 11," Weiner said. "Normally, when there is a very traumatic experience or death, typically the days before the anniversary, people start to relive aspects of the trauma. We call this an ‘anniversary reaction,’ which really means a repeat of a previous reaction."
In the days leading up to a difficult anniversary, alcohol consumption and drug use can increase. People also may overeat as a means of coping, Weiner said.
"Some people may drink more, throw parties or go away. Then, there are people who are not going to sit and reflect; those people will be more upset because they will not be dealing with it," noted the psychologist.
Anticipating an upswing in anxiety and depression after the terrorist attacks, mental-health professionals had prepared to offer their services. However, the onslaught of new patients never came, Weiner said.
The psychologist advised that nightmares, lack of sleep, moodiness, irritability and nervousness are just some of the telltale signs that something isn’t right, and could signal a need for professional help.
If 9-11 is too much to bear, Weiner has a simple suggestion: Just turn off the television news.
"You don’t need to live through it again and see the buildings fall another 50 times," he said. "We’re not going to learn anything we don’t already know. We’re not going to find out that a group of Boy Scouts is responsible; we know who did it. Just acknowledge that it will never make sense. Some things never make sense."
For many local firefighters, this is a particularly senseless and painful time.
Inside Engine 49 at 13th and Shunk streets, Sept. 11 memorials hang on the kitchen and foyer walls. In one commemorative plaque, the faces of every New York firefighter who perished in the World Trade Center stare back — a haunting reminder of the extent of the loss.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, the firefighting profession commanded a whole new respect and admiration from the general public.
"It’s a shame an incident of that magnitude had to be the catalyst for support," said Lt. Steve Lopresti of Engine 49. But in the year since 9-11, the lieutenant said he’s noticed support for firefighters is not as strong as it once was.
"People get back to their daily routine. They get complacent," he said. "We’re on the frontlines. We know the country is still at war and we have to be on our toes. We can’t afford to be complacent."
Asked if Sept. 11 has impacted how he or his peers regard their jobs, Lopresti said no. "We still come in every day and stay focused and do our job to protect life and property to the best of our ability."
Time marches on, as it should, and dulls all wounds in its wake. As a nation, we learned tough lessons from Sept. 11. Some would say that homeland security has increased and improved.
Airport security personnel who once only screened carry-on bags for guns now know to look for box cutters, said Donatucci, citing just one example of how the United States had to learn the hard way.
"Nine-11 was a wake-up call," he said. "It made us wake up and say it can happen to us."
Reflections on 9-11
For these readers, mere prose could not capture the feelings such a tragedy inspired.
September 11, 2000 and one
The day the horror in N.Y. begun
Then it went on to Washington, D.C.
Then again somehow on Flight 93
It caused such terror and strife
Such devastation and loss of life
They were mothers and fathers
They were daughters and sons
We know that these terrorists
They thought they had won
But together as a nation
We stood straight and tall
We let them know
They can’t destroy us all
Yes, they hurt us
We’ve shed many tears
But we will survive
We will be here for years
They caused us pain
They caused us grief
But we will rebuild
Because of our belief
We are one nation under God
United we all do stand
We all live in America
And this is always our land.
Many were hurt, many died
But all of us certainly cried
Words of prayer, not of hate
One of the things making America great
Disaster struck on our land
And we all agreed, "United We Stand"
Like Pearl Harbor we’ll always remember
The terrible day, the eleventh of September.
–Carl B. Spinelli,
The following letter also was inspired by the report of a fatal dog beating in Mantua last month:
There must be more love and understanding in this world
There must be a way of life that is gentle
There must be less killing, destroying and overreacting with violence
There must be a sense that kindness is not weakness
There must be an empathy for all life … animal, plant and human
There must be a strong belief in the spirit within and the spirits that have passed
There must be pain felt … those feelings must lead you to seek a better world
There must be peace on this Earth with all life … at least for a moment
There must be a way to stop the pain and suffering of so much in this world
There must be an understanding in all humans of what happens when a gentle way is not taken
There must be seen reason and sanity in simple, gentle steps and touch
There must be full meaning and clarity of words
There must be a way to bring our hearts and souls into this world as rulers
There must be a way to put the better part of ourselves in charge.