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  • Max Stearns

Brief Reflections Eighteen Years Later on September 11, 2001

In Hebrew, Chai (or 18) means life. I vividly recall where I was precisely 18 years ago today, seemingly a lifetime. I was then visiting in Ann Arbor, and awaiting my early morning class when a colleague in the hallway informed a group of us about the first plane that crashed into one of the two twin towers. No one knew what was going on, and several of us struggled as to what to do. I believe everyone proceeded to teach their classes, as did I. Only in class did I learn from a student about the second hit on the twin towers, and then later still of the Pentagon hit and the diverted plane in PA.

So much has happened in the intervening years as to make the sense of unity arising from these unimaginable crimes, even in our then egregiously imperfect union, entirely beyond recognition today. There no longer appears to be any sense of unity, and there no longer even appears to be a sense that we are one polity. And while there might be agreement on that, to be sure, there is apt to be none as to what has caused this. I obviously have my own strongly held views on the matter, but today is not a day for blame or recrimination. It is a day for reflection.

A lifetime later, we have not become a more perfect union, or a more compassionate peoples. We have become more insensitive, more eager to lay blame on everyone but ourselves, more angry, and, perhaps most damning, more cruel. I hope one lifetime from now, on the 36th anniversary of this horrific event, in the early morning hours of September 11, 2037, whether or not I'm among them, those who are look back to reflect that the lack of unity and benign purpose that we are experiencing all too frequently today, in contrast with the admitted imperfect sense of unity and benign purpose after September 11, 2001, is the anomaly that is out of keeping with the American spirit.

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