I was aghast, as so many were, to read about the massacre in Colorado on Friday night. No one should go to the movies and end up fighting for their life. I read an article today about those that died. The youngest was 6. She had attended the movie with her mother, something that I’m sure she had looked forward to for the entire week before. Two of those killed were active duty military, one from the Air Force and one from the Navy. I’m sure they didn’t expect to die in their own back yard. One man that died was in his 50’s, the father of two teenagers. I’m sure he was looking forward to bouncing his grandchildren on his knee in the future.
All of these lives cut short so quickly and mindlessly. It is sad and we are all wanting answers. Why did this man do this? What was his motivation?
But does it make it easier to know why he did it?
We know why the terrorists acted on 9/11, but does it make it easier?
On Sunday, I went to the Ground Zero 9/11 Memorial. Eleven years ago, most of the United States awoke to the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, almost 60 years before.
While the attack happened here on American soil, with American planes and many American lives were lost, it was truly a global tragedy. More than 90 countries (not including the terrorists) were represented in the death toll of 9/11, only one of them being the United States. 372 foreign nationals were killed on that day, 12% of the total death toll.
I was living in Italy on that day and I remember the outpouring of sympathy from all of the Italians that we came in contact with for weeks after the attacks. They were just as stunned as America was that someone would act in such a terrible manner. Complete strangers would come to me and hug me and tell me that they supported us in our time of need. I remember the Italians being very supportive at a time when I was worried about what other attacks may happen to us in the bucolic Italian countryside.
I was reminded of this time while I stood in line to enter the Memorial. I was surrounded by many different people and I counted at least 6 different languages being spoken: German, French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Russian. Interspersed with this was English from the local tourists, like myself.
We all stood together waiting to pay our respects to those that died on 9/11. We all stood thinking about that dark day, and remembering those that had died. I have never been somewhere so big that was so quiet. It was a Sunday, so the construction areas around the Memorial were silent. People spoke in low tones, pointing out something that had caught their eye or that they wanted to know more about.
When we entered the Memorial area, the quiet continued. The sound of the falling water in the waterfalls was ever present, no matter where you stood in the Memorial area. No one laughed, no babies cried. It was silent.
It was a place to come and recall. A place to come and remember. Even if, like me, you were not personally touched by the tragedy there, it was a time to remember those that were. I thought about where I was that day, how I found out about the tragedy, how our lives have changed since then.
I traced the names in the bronze at the Memorial and thought about how this was someone’s brother, sister, father, mother, son, daughter. I thought about children that had lost a parent, parents that had lost children. I thought about lives lost and the potential that was gone with them. I thought about how they were victims in a war that had almost nothing to do with them. I thought about the victims of the Pentagon and how they gave their lives in service to their country. I thought about those on Flight 93 and how they fought back and won, even as they lost their lives. I looked across those huge waterfalls, those pools of endlessly falling water, and how that one day, those thousands of lives, changed how we look at the world.
There will be a memorial to those that died in Aurora, Colorado. Just as there will be a memorial to those that were killed in Oslo, Norway, one year ago this past Sunday. Just as there are memorials to those that died in the Oklahoma City bombing and in Columbine.
To me, the memorials are a place to come and remember. Not just the deaths of those memorialized, but their lives. Each of these people had touched numerous others in their lives. With a smile, a handshake, a kind gesture. Each of them had left their mark, not because of how they died, but because of how they lived.
Each one of those names, on any memorial you go to, was a person who laughed and loved, who pulled practical jokes and gave of themselves. They had family that loved them. They had friends that would go to bat for them. No, they probably weren’t all good people, but most of them were. No more or less than your average person. They were sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, fathers and mothers. They have family members that miss them daily.
While I stood in the Ground Zero Memorial Gift Shop (all proceeds go to the upkeep of the memorial) there was a video playing on the screens at the back of the store. The silence from the Memorial carried over into the store. We all stood and silently watched the stories of those touched by the tragedy play out in the survivor’s own words. One stood out for me. It was a young man talking about his mother:
“I’ve learned to live without her. It’s taken me years, but I have learned to live without her.”
Whatever the motives behind these tragedies, whatever the reason for them, we have learned to live without those that were lost.
More importantly, we have lived.
That is the greatest testament that anyone can give to one who was lost.
We have lived.