Our Worst Day, We Were At Our Best

Today marks the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City.

As is the case with events both good and bad, the passage of time fogs our memories and dulls our collective emotions as more children are born who were born who have no recollection of the attacks nor of the collective outpouring of love and support. It is a good day to reflect, as we did recently in preparing this piece. One of the things we found was an editorial we printed in this space seven years ago on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. The words are as fitting today as when they were first penned. Below is a portion of that piece.

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We are mindful that inevitably, as the years roll along, fewer people will have firsthand memories of what happened here and we know that some day many years in the future, editors, reporters or local historians will look back to today’s special anniversary section to see what people were saying, feeling and thinking.

What do we want them to know of us?

What do we want them to understand about 9/11? What message do we want to send into the future? Those questions made it seem important to give this anniversary edition an element of retrospection, and not just stories about how things are today and how we believe they might be going forward.

From our perspective here at The Post-Journal, among many other things, we also want those future journalists to understand there are nuances derived from seeing history through the minds and hearts of a new generation. You will read stories in this special edition written by some Post-Journal reporters who were in high school or not even yet into their teens 10 years ago.

For them, 9/11 occurred early in their lives. It seems to us they did not have enough years under their belts at the time to fully recognize — or perhaps we mean internalize–the rarity of an event that galvanizes such utter unity in America. The instinctive and spontaneous circling of the wagons to face a common foe had not occurred on the scale that it did on that September day in 2001 since Pearl Harbor was attacked three generations ago.

Of course it will be many, many years before those with firsthand memories of the Sept. 11 attacks are gone. Even so, we feel compelled to repeat for the generations beyond that time a small slice of what was happening 10 years ago today.

It is this: By mid-morning on Sept. 11, 2001, Americans as a whole were trying to suck in that first hard-to-take breath after four roundhouse blows to the gut. We were shocked, stunned, unbelieving. But we were not paralyzed with fear or horror or anything else. As a people, as a nation, we wanted to do something, only it was hard in those first hours to know what that should be.

So around the country and here in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, Americans followed their instincts — and blood donors overwhelmed the Red Cross, churches filled with worshippers and we held hands and sang God Bless America over and over.

In short, on a day when the worst happened in America, Americans were at their best.

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We should remember those whose lives were snuffed out, including Celoron native Amy King. We should remember the collective punch in the gut our nation received 18 years ago while also remembering the unity and collective sense of coming together we experienced in the hours, days and weeks after the attacks. When the worst happened, Americans were at their best.