On Sept. 11, 2001, and in the days and weeks following, when the avalanche of news threatened to overwhelm me, I fled, as I always do, to music. If I could find a sliver of melody or just a splinter of lyric, perhaps reason would be restored. Through hours of Copland, Gershwin and Bernstein, I listened to music that is quintessentially American. And, in Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait", Lincoln's words, etched into the metal of Copland's music, restored reason.
Abraham Lincoln stands taller, both literally and figuratively, than anyone in my pantheon of heroes. He speaks down the years to me. There is nothing old or tired in either the music or words of the "Lincoln Portrait". Copland composed and Lincoln spoke for the ages. In the "Lincoln Portrait" he reminds us that "fellow citizens, we cannot escape history." The music's opening theme is an eerie warning of this inevitable fact. What we do during and after 9/11 will, for 100 years, for 1,000 years, forever, "light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation." Suddenly I am aware of how my country and I will look to those who come after us. Our goal throughout must be to earn the light of honor that only our commitment to freedom, equality and tolerance merits.
The music continues in a cadence that almost lulls us into a false sense of security culminating in a sharp wake-up chord. Lincoln tells us that "the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present." Lincoln's penchant for using opposites, notwithstanding, American history has rarely been characterized as a "quiet past," but our "stormy present" requires careful and creative thought all around.
In dark musical tones that sound like an agonized groan, Mr. Lincoln hands us the sale on which to weigh our deeds: "the common right of humanity" vs. "the same tyrannical principle."
That "same tyrannical principle" stained our nation with slavery.
That "same tyrannical principle" murdered millions of Jews in the Holocaust.
That "same tyrannical principle" herded Japanese-Americans into World War II internment camps.
That "same tyrannical principle" justified a "separate but equal" education for African-Americans.
That "same tyrannical principle" relegated women to second-class status.
That "same tyrannical principle" incited blind followers to fly commercial airliners into buildings in New York City and Virginia, and a field in rural Pennsylvania.
Whether clothed in the jeweled finery of autocratic hereditary monarchs of old or in the shabby robes of a self-appointed terrorist leader in the here and now, the fight is always the same: the struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, tolerance and intolerance.
Lincoln moved deftly in the gray area of politics, but he saw the fundamental, non-negotiable issues in black and white. There is no equivocation in the music either. Copland and Lincoln do not waver on the "tyrannical principle," neither do they strand us alone to deal with the "same tyrannical principle." They draw us inexorably to the hallowed battlefield cum cemetery of Gettysburg (so far from yet so close to Ground Zero).
In beautiful English prose, Lincoln declares in the Gettysburg Address that civilization simply is not a safe place for those "same tyrannical principle(s)" that array themselves against freedom, equality and tolerance. His weapons are core and plentiful commodities: "the proposition that all men are created equal," the "increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion," the "new birth of freedom," and the "government of the people, by the people, for the people...."
As the "Lincoln Portrait" concludes, it soars higher and higher in a massive crescendo, aflame with spirit, determination, pride and gratitude. The words and music have laid it all out for me. September 11 is now our history. We will "think anew and act anew." We will defeat the "same tyrannical principle," or tyrannical fallacy, of terrorism. We have our weapons poised and ready.
As I have discovered on Civil War battlefields, years from now our descendants will discover at Ground Zero and on a green field in Pennsylvania that, as another Civil War hero noted, "in great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass, bodies disappear but spirits linger to consecrate ground for the vision place of the soul. And reverent men and women from afar and generations that know us not and that we know not of, shall come here to ponder and to dream and the power of the vision shall pass into their souls."
Susan Campbell, Payson
On the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, I called a friend in Phoenix. We talked about the tragedy, the terrorists, the human aftermath of emotions and what we felt should happen next.
In passing, I told him that our local paper, the Payson Roundup, even had news and a small photo about the attacks on its front page. I told him that if the tragedy hadn't happened, it appeared as if the main story for that day was an article about local kids and their 4-H animals. The biggest picture on the front page was of a young girl and her pig, Inky.
The article read like snippets of nursery rhymes: "Cleaning and wallowing in the mud with Inky," "Prized porker...for her meat and behavior," and "... will bring a lamb to market." He chuckled and said that he thought it was sweet, reminded him of living in Iowa.
It was nice. It's a blessing, living with stories of such pastoral elegance, with the rural topics of kids and pigs and our town's political redistricting, flipping through the news to read articles on a local seamstress and regional high school sports.
It is sweet.
I look back now on the headlines from that day's Payson Roundup and mourn a little of what we lost. Not that we can't go back, but it's the feeling that on any given Tuesday or Friday our stories can be cut and pasted, shuffled a bit, to make room for the unthinkable.
Gail Wade, Payson resident
I didn't know about the bombing on Sept. 11 until I got to school. Everybody was talking about it, and I heard it on the intercom. I felt really bad.
I was very mad about it until my mom told me where it happened and said that America is extremely more powerful than Afghanistan. She also comforted me, but if she didn't tell me that, I would be bummed.
I still feel kind of bad, but not as much as when it happened. Usually I don't think of it unless someone mentions it. Hopefully it won't happen again.
Shaney Lords, Frontier Elementary School
Sept. 11 of 2001, I was changed forever. I was faced with the thought that I might lose my family. Even though Payson, Arizona is probably not on any map that the terrorists could have been looking at, there was a chance, a chance I did not want to think about.
Also, more realistically, one of my closest friends, John Jackson, is now in the Marines, stationed in Camp Pendleton. He is from Payson and graduated from Payson High. He was on leave when the Twin Towers were struck by terrorists and had to report back for duty hoping not to be sent overseas. If he would have been sent, there was a good chance that someone I grew up with would never be coming back home again.
I still do not understand why anyone would want to kill so many people and devastate so many others.
I question myself all the time. Why would anyone have so much hate in their hearts? Why are there people out there who care so little about others?
But my biggest question of all is: How can we help to make a difference for those whose lives, loved ones, and hopes were so needlessly lost? Even though I will never be able to get a true answer to any of my questions, I think that I will become wiser and stronger by continuing to ask them.
Erin Neal, Payson Center for Success
On the morning of Sept. 11, two of the world's greatest buildings fell to the ground. With them, thousands of lives were lost.
To this day every person in our amazing country is still mourning. Especially the families who lost lives. The wounded are still suffering, the everyday life that was familiar to them now lost. It's hard to even imagine the terror and sadness of all of the people who had to run for their lives as the twin towers fell to the ground behind them. To the people who were so desperate to return to their families and friends that they jumped from the crumbling towers, may God have given you a place in Heaven. For everyone and anyone who died that horrible day, may you be happy in Heaven. The people who died were America's successful people. They worked hard to get where they were on that day. They died making our country successful. Although we mourn, our hearts will someday heal from that day, but we will always remember the day when our lives were changed.
Brittany Normand, Rim Country Middle School
When 9-11 started, I felt bad and scared. When I happened, I was at home playing. It was hard for everybody, especially the people who lost their husbands and wives.
How did I deal with this? Well, I would play and think about something else. I would draw and watch TV. I would talk to my mom about it.
How do I feel about it now? I still feel bad. I hope we get Osama-bin Laden. The World Trade Center will never be the same. I feel sorry for the people who lost their lives.
Timmy Padilla, Frontier Elementary School
Sept. 11. A day which changed the citizens of the United States forever. It is a day that will always be remembered as two things: a day of tragedy and a day that brought out nation together.
Sept. 11 changed everyone in some way, from those who were inside the buildings when it took place, to those on the other side of the nation who may have had a relative or friend there. Even the children who were too young to understand and those who are not yet born. It will be an event talked about through the rest of time.
To look around and see the extensive changes in people's lives. Having to deal with a lost one or being part of a whole in the nation as it was attacked. To watch the news, or even in your surrounding neighborhood. See what people are doing to help one another get through this time of tragedy. To rebuild what we had and to keep us whole. In all areas you see Sept. 11 as having an effect on it. Listening to music, the writers now try to put more meaning into their songs. Try to sing for a better reason than just the sorrow of a broken heart. As new novels come out they, in some way, reflect what happened that day in their stories. Being able to see millions of people come together and work on building everyone up to where they were the day before.
When I think about Sept. 11, I often wonder why it took something so extreme to open our eyes and bring us together. It made us stand by one another and fight for our homes. If we had been more open and closer together, we might have somehow been able to stop this from happening or maybe driven it away from the Twin Towers. This will be a question that may not ever be answered clearly, but now that this has happened, our nation has become more united. We do, now, stand by one another and fight.
As quickly as we could, we got back into our daily routine, but with a different outlook on life. Whether it's being thought consciously or subconsciously, what we do is done differently now than if you were to do it on Sept. 10, 2001. Some of the old literature and poems that a student in school might read will now have more meaning to it; they will be able to understand it more on a personal level. For me, I work on making friends with everyone rather than enemies. The reason may be that one day this could happen again and that enemy I made could be where tragedy takes place, and I will never have the chance to reconcile with that person a thought, I feel, I would have to live with for the rest of my life. For me, Sept. 11 has taught me to think twice about what I say and do. Now, I will do what I can to make people happy. My daily goal is to make people laugh and to just love one another. I wish more people could want this. If they did, maybe terrorism would be less of an issue.
With Sept. 11 drawing near, exactly one year later from this tragedy, the scenes from that morning will be seen on television and in the newspapers and we will need to stand strong for those who did not make it through. We need to stand strong in remembrance of the firefighters and policemen who were there digging through the rubble to find anyone that was still alive, and for the effort they put forth for their nation. Because of Sept. 11 our nation now stands closer together. Mainly because we refuse to be defeated, but also because this is our home. By proving we can stand strong as a nation, we prove to the world that even if an unfair attack hits us, we will pull through ... as one.
Kira Hillegas, Payson Center for Success
If someone had asked me on September 10, 2001 if I was patriotic, my immediate reply would have been a simple yes of course, or nod of the head. Today, the depth of that patriotism cannot be expressed. When I think of my country and those Americans whose lives were far too brief, any reply to such a question is choked by sorrow and fear. It is because of so many heroes, known and unknown, the innocent lives lost and the resiliency of truly great people, these are the reasons I find pride in being American.
The day before September 11th, we flew to the Boston area to spend time with family and enjoy New England. I remember thinking how beautiful the morning was; the weather was perfect. Then a phone call, the television, the first tower, then the second, then the Pentagon, then reports of a plane crash in a Pennsylvania field. Life, as we knew it, ceased to exist that morning.
Just like everyone else, feeling the need to contribute and thinking one can just by staying focused on what was happening, we sat glued to a television or National Public Radio for a few days. We prepared for our flight home and arrived at the airport three hours early, as instructed. Within minutes, we were sitting at the gate with two hours and forty minutes to spare. Security, while addressed as needing to be greatly improved, was not at a point which brought us comfort.
With the extra time, we walked. The airport was eerily empty. We noticed all newspapers and magazines were on their racks facing inward. I realized the media was "bringing the story to us" but airport personnel were trying to keep the story off the minds of those about to board a plane. All televisions were tuned to the Weather Channel. The time only allowed my fears to manifest to a level I wasn't sure I could control.
We discussed renting a car and just driving home. It seemed to make sense except for the feeling of betrayal. My husband gently put his hand over mine and as the tears of fear welled in my eyes, he expressed that if we don't fly, "they" will have won. A simple statement and I suddenly felt I could somehow make a difference by dealing with my fear. I was American, and although I may not have fought on a battlefield, I needed to fight the battle within me and express my patriotism by getting on that plane.
We must never forget, and they must never win.
Joni de Szendeffy, Payson resident