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It was a beautiful, sunny, early autumn day. The morning was crisp, the skies were blue, and the city was bright with early fall light. The work day was just starting. People were getting settled into their daily work routines, finishing a cup of coffee and bantering with their colleagues. Others were a little late because they were caught in traffic or were getting children to school, everyone just going about his or her usual work day. But something was about to happen that no one could ever imagine or plan for, something so terrible that it would boggle the mind, heart and soul of any rational human being.
Others had boarded airplanes in Boston or New York heading out to a late vacation trip, or off to some business meeting across the country. They were doing what was ordinary and regular in their busy lives. Each had in their mind just the immediate business or pleasures before them. But evil was hunting every one of them with a predator's cold and focused intent. There is no other word that can describe what would happen to each of those 2,984 men and women that bright, autumn September day in 2011.
When the first plane crashed into the first World Trade Center tower the tragedy was already unspeakable. We thought of all those people on the plane, and those who would have been on those floors where the immediate impact occurred. We worried about those above those floors and about the fireman and policemen who would do what they were trained to do by entering the burning building to try to rescue the people and to put out a very tough fire. At that moment most of us thought of it all as just another accidental tragedy. Then, with terrible speed, we watched a second commercial airliner strike the second tower. What had been an accidental, impersonal tragedy suddenly became concentrated, conscious and very personal. The nation woke up in that moment to the fact that we were under attack.
Terror and anger were palpable in those who watched in stunned horror from the streets below. Firemen and policemen started right away to do what they do best, going into the burning high rise to help people get out, to aid the injured, and to fight the fire. Then, as if in some awful nightmare we watched those huge structures fall, first one, then the other. It was too large an event to be believed. Nothing could have prepared any of us for such a horrifying image.
The day got even more dark as we heard of another commercial airliner crashing into the Pentagon wiping out more innocent lives in the air and on the ground. And finally, the third airliner which, it was reported, might be heading to the White House or the Congress Building, crashed inexplicably in a cornfield in Pennsylvania. We would find out in the days that followed that there was a coordinated and courageous effort on that plane by male and female passengers alike to retake it before it could be used as yet another lethal weapon against the innocent.
The fanatics behind the events of that terrible day were following the dictates of a true prince of darkness, Osama bin Laden. Their corrupt and inhuman behavior was magnified by the very innocence of those they so coldly murdered that day.
In a matter of days, we will arrive at the 10th anniversary of that terrible day. On September 11, 2011 the new 9/11 Memorial will be publicly dedicated. That place is now, and will from here on be sacred ground. It is a beautiful, thoughtful, sensitive architectural design that pays silent tribute to the fallen, with the names of each person who died in those three events that day carved into the walls of the memorial. In that quiet, contemplative place, surrounded by green space and trees, resonant with the sound of cascading water in its two remembrance pools, will be a place of profound respect, deep honor, and true healing.
It will become the exact opposite of what those terrorists wanted. It will be a place of beauty and healing and hope. It will be a place where the world will come together to shed tears, but also to breathe deeply the peace of that place. Those who will visit the 9/11 Memorial this coming September 11th, and for the decades to come, will be able to honor the fallen, to remember the courage of the many first responders, and the dedication of those who worked to clear the ruins for months afterwards. They will know that the American spirit is intact, is even more sturdy than before, and that beauty is more powerful than hate.