Lyons: What 9/11 joined is now torn asunder

Don’t get me wrong, I hate what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.

As another anniversary passed this week, I’m still furious that innocent Americans and foreigners alike were murdered by a ragtag band of lunatics with little more than box cutters and blind, seething hatred. Families of the victims will be affected for generations. The nation, and the entire world, changed forever that morning.

But there’s something I miss about the aftermath. Not witnessing the untold suffering that went on for weeks and months that followed. Not the news coverage or the steady stream of images from ground zero. Certainly not the heightened security or the way panic set in at the mere sight of a low-flying aircraft.

As is often the case during a crisis of that scale, there were stories of individual acts of heroism, such as the passengers aboard Flight 93 who refused to risk other lives at the expense of their own. Stories like that offered comfort about the human condition.

However, what I miss most of all is the clarity. The sanity evident in the face of insanity. The basic notion that there is a division between good and evil in this world that was palpable. There was a sense of vengeance, yet it felt oddly subdued – measured.

Of course, the clarity came with a sadness and an undercurrent of anger, but for a while it felt as though the nation was on the same page. Things were in perspective. Our supposed chasms of differences didn’t seem very significant.

Maybe it was just the jolt of the tragedy. Maybe it was because we had a more sinister, more obvious, if shadowy, enemy.

Or maybe it had something to do with the Flight 93 heroes or how New York City firefighters and police officers went about their jobs as first responders do each day rushing to save people’s lives because that’s what they do.

Paramedics and cops didn’t pause a moment wondering whether the people stuck in the stairwell in World Trade Center Tower 1 were U.S. citizens, Christian or Muslim, pro-life or pro-choice, Democrats or Republicans, gay or straight, or whether the victims thought police pensions were bloated.

All of these factors and others likely combined to a sense of togetherness, and not some kind of kumbaya-hippie-lovefest – but some real understanding. There was compassion. Listening. Tolerance. It’s not that there weren’t differences, just a willingness to roll up shirt-sleeves and get things done.

When’s the last time you felt that way?

While not that surprising as we approach a divisive presidential election, doesn’t the constant divisiveness and often pettiness exhaust you sometimes? Don’t you long for a day when people looked at the bigger picture and weren’t just looking to score points in some imaginary political game that lacks overall winners.

It shouldn’t take nearly 3,000 deaths for the country to gather some perspective, and no one would wish for such a tragedy ever again, but it would be nice to have the spirit of cooperation back.

• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at

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