By Carter B. Horsley
September 11, 2002 - Today,
the first anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks of September
11, 2001, will live in empathy.
In an extraordinary day of
commiseration, President Bush celebrated the lives of those lost
in the attacks by personally reaching out to many of the bereaved.
The highlight of a very busy and long day of memorials was his
visit to Ground Zero to lay a wreath and meet with the families
of those lost at the World Trade Center site. He and the First
Lady walked slowly and solemnly down the 800-foot-long bridge
into the seven-story-deep site, hand in hand. He then proceeded
to walk around the large circle in the center of the site strewn
with wreaths and flags and to shake hands with some, hug others
and kiss the cheeks of some. He also signed autographs, received
momentos, and posed for pictures if requested. The First Lady
accompanied him and after a while she also shook hands. It took
a very long time. Not all of the bereaved families showed up for
the occasion, but many did.
What was remarkable about this
part of the day was that the President was in no hurry, showed
no favor, and was impressive earnest. He was this public's servant.
He was theirs to command, but he also was steadfastly their leader,
and there could be no doubt of the genuine emotion.
Political handshaking is a
minor art, of course, but this was not the usual "happy to
see yuh," canned repartee, 15-second "bite." It
lasted about two hours and came after many hours of traveling
and ceremonies and before a major televised address to the nation.
It also came during an "orange" alert, the nation's
second highest level of security warnings, and concerns that terrorists
might use the anniversary to launch another attack.
In this "modern"
era, it is easy to casually assume that political leaders can
spin off "picture opportunities" at a moment's notice
and most are for a moment's notice. While it is demeaning to measure
this "opportunity" in time, nonetheless the President's
performance was inspiring, heart-felt, and flawless.
This day, and this occasion
in particular, was viewed by some as a chance to bring some "closure"
to the suffering caused by the attacks. The media has produced
an overwhelming abundance of commemorative material and it has
been refreshing that some much of it has been executed with great
taste and been very moving. ABC-TV had a profoundly absorbing
program the night before in which some of the firemen who participated
in the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center and survived bared
their souls with tremendous sensitivity and intelligence and fine
humanity. This evening, Tom Brokaw anchored a fascinating program
interviewing the air-traffic controllers who were on duty during
the terrorist attacks. It, and another ABC-TV program interviewing
various high-level government officials, revealed how truly terrifying
the day of the attacks had been: were there to be more attacks
and what targets?
Perhaps because of the profusion
of news about security alerts, New York City was not too crowded
today. A few stores and apartment buildings that had taken down
their American flags after many months brought them out again.
It was not unusual for people to talk with apprehension about
the day because of concerns about security, but the city went
about its business pretty much as usual with the stock exchange
decided only to open a couple of hours later.
The names of the 2,801 persons
who perished in the attacks were read in a ceremony at Ground
Zero earlier in the day. There were moments of silence. Bells
were rung. An eternal flame was lit at Battery Park City with
representatives of 91 nations attending. Religious institutions
held special services. Memorial concerts were held in all the
boroughs with Billy Joel singing "New York State of Mind"
in Central Park.
There appears to have been
no diminution of intense emotions about the attacks. The shock
and hurt remain and the trauma still has not abated.
The healing process has been
long and continues, but the spirit, the notion, the momentum of
community has accelerated in New York and the nation.
It was a sad day of mourning
and tributes, but it was also another day in which humanity was
embraced and flourished.