For 20 years, we’ve been enduring the cascading impacts of that terrible day in September.
First were the first responders and the people who were at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania — the dead and the injured, physically and spiritually. These men and women wore the impact of the day on their bodies, cloaked in dust and grime as they wandered away in shock from Ground Zero, or ran toward it.
Too many were struck down.
Second were the terrified families and friends and loved ones waiting at home, whose lives would always be marked by loss or the fear of it. Into this class add all the New Yorkers and Long Islanders who had their cores shaken by every glance at the television screen, the gray sky, the horrific rainstorm of papers from the towers, the sight of unclaimed cars in commuter parking lots. The funerals.
Then there were the children. It is not right to say that kids are "too young to remember." No: They lived in the same New York, they smelled the same air, they weathered their own disruptions, large or small. And they sensed — from their parents, from the world around them — that something was and would be terribly wrong.
These were the immediate impacts, but the cascade continued. It continued when we sent waves of workers and rescuers to the pile, to breathe in the cruel sicknesses that would spread in so many responders. It continued as we changed our laws and safety precautions, debating and enforcing surveillance, taking off our shoes at airports, and — too often — fearfully discriminating against neighbors who had nothing to do with that tragedy beyond some similarity of names.
The cascade continued when we went to war for vengeance, first in one country thousands of miles away, then in another. Those wars bred heroes and casualties, civilian and military — too many of both. Did we know that nearly 20 years of war would begin not long after the planes struck? The consequences reverberate now — for the veterans who went back for tour after tour, the families whose service-member sons and daughters were lost or changed, the Afghan refugees fleeing an exhausted country we neither destroyed nor saved.
The impact of Sept. 11 continues as those who were NYPD and FDNY cadets 20 years ago start pondering retirement. It continues as eyewitnesses and Zadroga Act beneficiaries age and even die. It continues as the children of 2001 become firefighters, police officers, politicians, doctors and nurses, tasked with meeting new terrors, even as the shadow of that day remains.
American history is not long. We are living still with the impacts, the shadows, of our great tragedies and triumphs. The impact of one act, one day, creates a reaction, and then another — even years later when all that remains is that unbroken chain.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.