The Moment

Twin TowersAfter the towers fell, there was a moment.

After we watched in horror the impact of the planes,
And bodies, like tiny dots on our television screens,
plunged a thousand feet to the ground.
As one after another, the buildings collapsed,
And the streets were filled with waves of people fleeing for their lives,
And the air was saturated with molecules of ash and debris,
Particulates of concrete, insulation, and human flesh,
There was a moment.

After we saw the firefighters and police, and brave men and women
Who lived or worked nearby, rush into the heart of the disaster,
And the hospitals made space for the survivors…
And after we finally understood there would be no more survivors,
There was a moment.

After we watched endless replays of the breach at the Pentagon,
The billowing flames and the wall of smoke,
After we saw the stunned survivors pouring out into the parking lots,
And we learned of those who died there, at the epicenter of our impotent defense,
There was a moment.

After we saw the Pennsylvania field where Flight 93 hit the ground,
And we heard about the phone calls home, how the passengers came to realize
Their plane, too, was meant to be a weapon.
And, in demonstration of the best of the American character, they voted,
And made a plan. A flight attendant boiled water for a weapon;
With a food cart as a battering ram, they rushed the terrorists in the cockpit.
In the face of almost certain death, they averted another attack.
And for the rest of us, in our collective pride and grief, there was a moment.

As we all paused in place, immobilized by shock and by the silent skies,
There was a moment when we all came together as a country.
There was a sacred moment when we were one people,
United in our helplessness and our rage,
Our fear and our confusion, and our sorrow.
There was a moment we reached out to one another,
And we remembered we were all Americans.
We suffered for each other,
And we reaffirmed our commitment
To all the good for which the country stands.

There was a moment when we heard, “Today we are all Americans.”
When the whole world was our neighbor,
When words of comfort were spoken in every language, and
Hands reached out to hold our hands,
From every part of the globe.

And then, somehow, it began to slip away.

How did we lose that connection with each other?
Did it begin with the Patriot Act, when in our fear we allowed
Our basic liberties to be transgressed?
Did it slip away when our leaders launched an invasion
Based, we later learned, on lies,
and the country was cleaved into those who believed and those who doubted?
When we inflicted upon another nation, and upon our own warriors, a hundred-fold
The injuries of that September morning?

Did the goodwill disappear as markets froze, and the economy halted?
When the greed built, and the corporate purveyors of war grew fat on our collective pain?
Did it happen when the house of cards that was the banking system finally gave way,
And bright foreclosure signs began to sprout on lawns
Like patches of dandelions?

Somehow, despite our common love of country, and the shared desires of our hearts,
Left and right, red and blue, we moved apart.
We began to blame each other, and call each other wrong;
To question the patriotism of fellow citizens
Who might pull a different lever in the voting booth.

Did it happen at a Tea Party rally, out of the deep frustration of those who felt unheard?
Was it because a woman pushed to the front of the line,
And a black man moved into the whitest of houses?
Or was it manipulated by the cynical commentators who broadcast hate over the air,
Not unlike the rants of Radio Rwanda?

And I wonder: Does the center hold?
Does the will exist among us to grasp, once again,
That shining moment?

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