The steely plume of smoke spiraling upward was an eerie reminder one could still see two weeks following the razing of New York City’s Twin Towers. I moved to an island off the mid-coast of Maine nine months earlier. Manhattan was my home for forty years. I needed to visit friends, listen to their stories, share their grief. The absence of people, cars, and activity was otherworldly. Instead, I saw armored tanks and troops carrying machine guns amidst an unimaginable silence, except for the helicopters circling the City.
I stayed with a friend who lived close to the Armory, where survivors posted hundreds of pictures of those “missing.” She suggested I walk there with my film cameras. I hoisted my camera bag onto my shoulder and started walking.
I took 176 images at the Armory, then rounded a corner, spotting a single weather-beaten paper Scotch-taped to an iron gate. Though somewhat unreadable, it tugged at me. I never showed it because I thought it wasn’t good enough; it was too soon, too late, and unreadable. I digitized the initial film image over twenty years, trying not to mar its veracity and lamenting my inability to bring the lyrics into clear focus. Though old, a little grainy, technology provided a perfect solution — a coalescence of image, words, and music.
Given what our nation, the world, our planet experienced these past twenty years, I decided it was time to show the image, resurrecting a moment when our country did live like one as the world mourned with us. John Lennon did not compose the song Imagine like an anthem, but I think it is. He was far-seeing, idealistic, and he, too, is mourned.
Has anything profoundly changed since 9/11 twenty years ago today: The brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind living as one in peace? For a fleeting moment, our nation was united, surmounting our differences to immerge from a tragedy with hope and, yes, love for one another.
Can we do it again?
Yes! And we must try.
In a recent Robert Hubbell Today’s Edition Newsletter, he wrote, “I know that there are many important issues that demand attention. … [However], we are the beneficiaries of the tireless efforts of activists who came before us. We are in their debt and must repay their generosity by emulating them.
It is our turn to defend the ramparts of freedom. We are not being saddled with an undue burden. Every generation must step into the breach. We need only hold the line until the next generation is ready to fight. But we must show them the way. If we expect our children and grandchildren to understand that democracy is worth defending, they must grow up watching us do so.”
As we did during 9/11.
For all those lost at the Towers, the Pentagon, and on Flight 93, may their memories be a blessing.