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Important Things

In memoriam, September 11, 2001.

12:00 AM, Sep 11, 2010 • By KATHRYN SLATTERY
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As the morning dragged on, men and women covered in white dust, looking like ghosts, staggered up the steps and through the door.  Survivors from the horror downtown, they had walked the four miles to the Williams Club in shock.

Once we had finally gotten through to Katy and my sister, and made sure they were safe, and called my mother, and our son Brinck at his high school to reassure them that we were all okay, Tom and I headed for home via the West Side Highway.  It was three o’clock in the afternoon.  Across from us on the southbound lane, an endless convoy of ambulances and emergency vehicles from the northern suburbs, including New Canaan, moved toward what the newscaster on the radio was calling “Ground Zero.”  I turned around in my seat and looked south where a dismal dirty gray cloud filled the empty space where the twin towers had stood.  It seemed impossible that they were gone.  National Guardsmen, armed with rifles and wearing camouflage uniforms and black boots, stood at the Henry Hudson Bridge toll gates, and inspected our car before letting us pass.

When we finally made it home, Tom and I pulled my father’s flag – the flag that had covered Dad’s casket when he died – out from the darkness of the closet and hung it over the front door.  Across the street and next-door, our neighbors had put out their flags, too.

As I stood looking at the flag, I remembered how as a teenager, my father’s patriotism had embarrassed me.  At high school football games I wanted to hide when he placed his right hand over his heart and lustily bellowed every word to the Star Spangled Banner.  Back then, my father’s old-fashioned, unapologetic patriotism seemed not only corny, but irrelevant.  Forged by the fires of adversity and sacrifice, his patriotism was the birthright of a different generation – the Greatest Generation – surely something that could never burn in my privileged baby boomer’s heart.

Until now.

The two towers were not all that fell on that awful day.  If only for a moment, all that was trivial about everyday American life fell away, too.  The culture of celebrity.  Partisan politics.  Irony.  All were unmasked as the cheap, shallow, frivolous imposters that they were.

Rising out of the ruins, all that remained standing were the Important Things:  Faith.  Family.  Friends.  Freedom.  Essential and enduring, they offered meaning and hope to a nation and people suffering incalculable heartache and loss. 

Now, I thought, is the time to say, “I love you.”  Now is the time to say, “I’m sorry.”  Now is the time to say, “Thank you.”  Now is the time to make peace with God.  Now is the time.  Tomorrow may be too late. 

On September 11, 2001, it was all so clear.     

Kathryn Slattery is a long-time Contributing Editor for Guideposts magazine, and the author of several books.

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