The somber tolling of the bell in National Cathedral as the ceremony ended moments ago is still echoing in my ears as I write this. Perhaps the service was the beginning of our healing, perhaps the beginning of our step forward from the horror. Regardless, it was a period of poignant beauty amidst the terrible events of the week. The stark beauty of The Lord’s Prayer in song was an expression of the unity of humanity amidst the terror and destruction.
If George Bush has been tested, his words to the congregation and the world has proven him as a president, a man, a human being. His words summed beautifully the scope of the damage to people and our country, the heroism of our immediate response and the resolve of what is yet to come.
His remembrance ranged from the bravery of those trapped to that of the rescuers who despite the risk to their own lives, went into the inferno to assist others. He spoke of the people and the country and he was steadfast in his determination to move ahead on our own terms.
I hope the terrorists were listening because, lest anyone missed it, President Bush stated clearly the position of the United States in regard to this horror. He noted that the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was done in a manner and at a time chosen by the terrorists. He then clearly stated that their evil would be ended at a time, place and manner of our choosing. Mr. Bush threw down the gauntlet with no elaboration.
If this country needed reassurance that we have a real leader, he proved it, without a doubt.
The formality of the occasion was touched with humanity but none more touching than when President Bush returned to the pew after his spoken words. As he sat down next to the first lady, and kept his eyes to the altar, his father, former President George Bush who was sitting next to Laura Bush, reached over to grasp and pat his son’s hand.
It was an unspoken human communication between father and son and a symbol that the two men understand the scope and seriousness of what the future holds for our country.
There were also tears in the eyes of the former president, no doubt for the moment but also for the pride of a parent. It’s difficult to imagine the emotion those men must feel. No doubt, as well, that between them lies the knowledge of what could happen.
The former president is a military man, a diplomat and a politician. He was a congressman, head of the CIA, vice president and president. If anyone knows the scope of the potential facing the current president, his son, it is he. And if anyone knows that there is nothing he can do to shield his son from the dangers involved, it surely is he. If that isn’t enough to bring tears to the eyes of a parent, then nothing is.
It is not back to normal; it will never be back to normal because the definition of what is normal has changed, probably forever.
Burned into my soul are the images of last week. I simply cannot get the pictures out of my mind. I simply cannot turn off the memory tape of brave firemen, police and medical workers and the strain and trauma they faced as they were called to “do their job.” I see the strong mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani, there for his city and the world, torn by his duty as mayor and his response as a human being.
I was wakened from sleep Tuesday morning by words from my radio telling what turned out to be just the beginning of a drama that has not yet ended. I ran to the TV and my shock turned to disbelief and numbness as I realized the enormity of what was playing out before my eyes. But then it got worse as the second tower was hit and then the Pentagon and the crash in Pennsylvania. And then the towers collapse. Who could have imagined such devastation? How do you deal with it?
New Yorkers showed the strength that has always marked the city. They were there – to help, to donate blood, to provide the moral support with presence, applause for rescuers, flying the American flag, with assistance to those made homeless and jobless, with prayers and tears.
We are not shown the bodies of the dead. Media and officials must feel we are too weak to accept that. I don’t believe that. I believe we need to know that probably most of those lost simply will not be returned to us for memorial. The crash and fire that vaporized the steel, glass and concrete of the World Trade Center did the same to human beings in their path. What was not reduced to ash was torn asunder. It is the task of the rescuers to pick up those pieces. Consider the effect of that on them – we need to know it too.
It is not a picture we like, but it is the truth. I believe it is a truth we need to know if only to help us fully understand the enormity of the destruction of innocent human beings at the hands of people who hate this country and want to put an end to us.
Our president spoke of the unity Americans have today as a kinship of grief. He also spoke of another unity, this one against terrorism. Mr. Bush quoted FDR who, in his time and place in history as the country was under attack, spoke of the “warm courage of national unity.”
It was that unity and courage in 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor, that fueled the determination of the United States to pursue the enemy and win. It must be the same determination and courage today.
It is a different time, a different enemy and a different kind of war. But the threat of the enemy is the same and so is their goal. They want to destroy all that we have and all that we are.
We must not – we cannot – let them succeed.