Has it really been 10 years?
Archives | 09/15/2011
By Andrea Lovejoy, columnist La Grange Daily News, September 9, 2011, p. 6. Posted with permission of the author.
Has it really been 10 years since the Twin Towers fell and the earth itself seemed to shift beneath our feet? Can it really have been a decade since the Pentagon was attacked and the bold, brave words, “Let’s roll!” were spoken by a doomed hero in the skies over Pennsylvania?
That’s what I kept asking myself as I drove to the Troup County Archives and Legacy Museum on Main Street, intent on revisiting distant columns and local news stories written in the turbulent aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Ten years? One part of me says, “No way! It seems like yesterday!”
The memories are so fresh. I can still feel the shock, the fear, the anger, the anguish, the swelling patriotism, the stirring unity.
The rest of me says, “Ten years? Is that all?”
So much has happened. So much effort, so much sacrifice, so much insecurity, so much scandal, so much squandered goodwill, so much posturing and disillusionment. In a thousand ways, 9/11 seems like a lifetime ago.
Ten years? Why, that would be before my grandchildren were born, and I can scarcely imagine a world without them.
Ten years? Why that’s about how long it takes to get through the security line in most airports, suffering the indignity of bare feet, hoping it won’t be your turn to be groped by a scowling TSA agent.
Ten years? Why that was before Smartphones and IPads, Kindles, Twitter, Facebook and a dozen other technological innovations that now shape daily life.
Ten years? So much has changed and yet … and yet the talk in the days leading up to Sept. 11 this year has centered on the same things we talked about in early September 2001: football and fall weather; back to school and the upcoming TV season; barbecue, lake levels, fundraisers and the latest SPLOST campaign.
These jumbled impressions were clashing in my head as I hurried into the museum/archives, exchanged pleasantries with its able director, Kaye Minchew, and stopped dead in my tracks.
On display, front and center, was a blackened piece of metal, most likely part of a steel beam, heavy, rough and battered, perhaps 18 inches across. It wasn’t much to look at, but I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
It wasn’t what it had been, but where it had been and what it had been through that makes this hunk of steel significant.
Museum curator Laurie Sedicino had told me months ago that the museum would be receiving a remnant salvaged from the ruins of the World Trade Center. She’d seen an announcement that the New York Port Authority would make pieces available to appropriate locations around the country, to assist communities in commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The Legacy Museum applied and, to their surprise, was approved.
The piece arrived several weeks ago, via Fed Ex. Imagine that.
And now, there it was, right in front of me, mounted creatively by West Georgia Technical College. There it was, sturdy and yet destructible, bearing grim witness to perhaps the most painful day in modern history.
They say seeing is believing, and that is true. But seeing is also experiencing. And remembering. And honoring.
A sign beside the recovered relic said it’s OK to touch, but carefully. The jagged edges are very sharp.
I touched it, slowly, solemnly. In a way it felt wrong, almost irreverent, to place a hand on such a precious thing.
But in a larger sense, it felt necessary.
How could I see this twisted reminder of a heinous massacre and not reach out to it? How could I remember and not trace my fingers across this symbol of so many lost, so much destroyed.
Touching that heavy steel didn’t magically solve the weighty questions that linger, 10 years after that tragic September morning. But I felt, somehow, closer to a place and time that had seared all our souls.
I had promised not to forget. Touching the broken beam was one way of keeping that promise.
Ten years? In that moment, it didn’t seem like only yesterday, nor did it seem like a lifetime ago.
It felt like now.
That’s when the realization hit me. I didn’t touch the artifact of the Twin Towers. It touched me.
Andrea Lovejoy is former editor of LaGrange Daily News.