What 9/11 can teach us about Sept. 11, 2020
One of the things I remember most about Sept. 11, 2001, was the singing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building.
I was a young reporter in Michigan, covering a special election in Macomb County held despite the terrorist attacks earlier that day in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. We watched the scene on a television tucked in a corner of the small storefront campaign office used by former state Senator David Jaye for his effort to regain the seat he lost in expulsion.
On a day that saw so much horror and so much sadness, when the tears could have come at any time, they didn’t fill my eyes until I saw that scene on television. Seeing those men and women (well, mostly men) who came together from all across this country, representing vastly different people and places and different political affiliations … that got me right in the feels.
Listening to the words of “God Bless America” that night felt like this country could come together, even as the world we knew fell apart. It was a horrible act of hatred and violence that killed nearly 3,000 people in three cities in one day.
And here we are, 19 years later and where are the tears for the nearly 200,000 people who have died due to complications from the novel coronavirus? Where are the tears for the parents, teachers, health care workers and countless others doing all the jobs right now as we try to navigate our way through the dark room that is this country’s response to this crisis.
Since the shutdowns started six months ago, a churning mix of anxiety and anger and resentment and (sometimes) hope roll like waves through my brain and gut, tears have only come a handful of times.
Among those times: The celebratory car horns that remind us of all that we’re missing and then there were the virtual school board meetings. I teared up at the start of each one I watched via Zoom over the summer as we began to figure out what this unprecedented school year would look like for our kids and what it would mean to our families. I cried each time because I thought to myself, “These are educators, they’re not health care professionals. They are trying to do their absolute best with the absolute worst situation without a helpful hand or guiding light.”
And at the core of this situation, that’s what almost all of us are doing. We’re doing the work to keep ourselves safe, to keep our families together, to keep our heads above water. Without a lot of help, we’re doing the parenting and the teaching and the coordinating and the monitoring.
What’s funny (terrible?) is that the only person not doing all the things to help us do all the things is the leader of this country. As we manage homeschooling schedules and work assignments, he’s golfing. As we desperately try to understand and navigate evolving guidance from scientists who are grappling with a virus that is brand new to this planet, he’s lying about how dangerous it is. And as millions of people in this country ask for rent forgiveness and look for a job and put off visits to doctors and dentists and visit food pantries, he’s spending time deciding whether to call his opponent “sleepy” or “radical.”
This anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is unlike any of those that came before, but we’re saying that about a lot of things in 2020. This one, though, shows us how much we value human life, what we expect from our leaders and the role we want our country to play in the world. More should be the answer to all the above.
Amy Bailey was a member of the Michigan Capitol Press Corps from 2000-2006. She lives and works in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with her husband, son and an easily excitable Australian Shepherd named Max. Amy's guest column, Something to Say, publishes periodically. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.