However much the nation has fractured since those days of unity immediately following 9/11, the dead remain dead and the obligation they leave us remains unchanged.
The challenge to give their loss meaning is renewed at each anniversary observance, when their names are read aloud, ten of them joined by a phrase that once again hung in the air at Ground Zero on Tuesday morning.
“DEANNA LYNN GALANTE AND HER UNBORN CHILD.”
“LAUREN CATUZZI GRANDCOLAS AND HER UNBORN CHILD”
“JENNIFER L. HOWLEY AND HER UNBORN CHILD”
“HELEN CROSSIN KITTLE AND HER UNBORN CHILD.”
“VANESSA LANG AND HER UNBORN CHILD”
‘PATRICIA ANN CIMAROLI MASSARI AND HER UNBORN CHILD”
‘RENEE A. MAY AND HER UNBORN CHILD”
“SYLVIA SAN PIO RESTA AND HER UNBORN CHILD.”
“RAHMA SALIE AND HER UNBORN CHILD”
“DIANNE SINGER AND HER UNBORN CHILD”,
These children-never-to-be would have now been 16, the amount of life they missed having grown with each year. The first of those years, we were able to tell ourselves that at least the evil we faced had brought out the good in us, beginning with the cops and firefighters who raced into the burning towers.
In the days after the attack, the identification of the dead was accompanied by profiles that presented what was best and most worth remembering about each of them. We thereby got a lesson in what to value in one another.
We could have no memories of the unborn 10 of 9/11 who had never drawn even a first breath. We could only have thoughts of what might have been, joined by thoughts of what should be.
At 9:59 a.m., a bell rang across the memorial plaza and the reading of the names paused for a moment of silence marking when the first tower fell. Those who had perished included Police Officer Moira Smith, who had been photographed leading a bleeding business executive to safety. She had then returned to the South Tower in an effort to save others. She left behind a young daughter and an example of courageous selflessness for the whole country to follow.
A police sergeant who now stood over by the memorial fountain marking the footprint of the North Tower quietly lamented the frenetically fractious state of the nation. He said he had seen evidence of it even as he watched the televised U.S. Open match between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. The crowd had seemed to decide that since Williams was the good one, then Osaka must be the bad one and had continued booing the blameless young champion even as she dissolved in tears.
“Absolutism,” the sergeant noted.
As the reading came to one of the 10 with the phrase “and her unborn child,” somebody to the side of the stage noted that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the longtime second in command and now presumptive leader of al Qaeda, was a pediatrician by training. This monstrous kids doctor remains at liberty despite the expenditure of trillions of dollars and the loss of thousands of lives.
“He managed not to get caught by not doing anything,” a senior police counter-terrorism official said.
The official meant that al-Zawahiri had remained in hiding, abstaining from attention-getting videos and only communicating with others in the organization through couriers. The official noted that terrorist higher-ups are quick to urge others to become martyrs, but take great care when it comes to their personal safety.
“They all want to live to be 100 like everybody else,” the official noted.
He further observed that al Qaeda itself has not mounted any major operations in the U.S. since 9/11.
“The biggest thing Bin Laden did after that was get killed, and it took him 10 years to do it,” the official said.
The official further reported that al Qaeda has declined in activity even has it has grown in numbers by taking in other groups as what amount to franchises. The ultimate goal of the terrorist leaders is to be terrorist leaders, thereby able to avoid working for a living.
“A self-licking ice cream cone,” the official said.
The official figured the greater danger will continue to be the lost souls who are prompted by al Qaeda or ISIS propaganda to mount small attacks that are largely forgotten by all except the surviving victims and their families. Nobody on Tuesday was speaking about the eight killed by a lone loser in a rental truck just up West Street from Ground Zero in 2017.
The reading of the names from the attack in 2001 paused again at 10:28 am, when a ringing of the bell and another moment of silence marked the moment when the second tower fell.
Those who had perished included Port Authority Police Captain Kathy Mazza, who had evacuated several civilians before returning inside. Her body, along with those of four fellow PAPD cops were found surrounding the body of a women in a rescue chair they had been trying to carry to safety. A surviving member of the PAPD who now works in counter-terrorism stood near the same spot on Tuesday. He had spent the years since 9/11 seeking to thwart other attacks, be they by sleeper cells or lone losers.
“How can you protect everywhere all the time?” he asked.
Somebody suggested that the late Sen. John McCain had been right when he said we were facing a 20- or 30-year war against terrorism. The cop noted we have already passed the 20-year mark if you count the six killed in the 1993 bombing that preceded 9/11. Their names are inscribed at the North Memorial Pool. One includes a phrase added to the names of 10 from the 2001 attack.
“MONICA RODRIGUEZ SMITH AND HER UNBORN CHILD”
The counter-terrorism cop had become friendly with the mother-never-to-be’s husband, Edward Smith. The husband had told the cop that they had learned that the baby was a boy and had already named him, Edward, Jr. The husband had also said that February 26, 1993 had been her last day before maternity leave and she had gone in only for her baby shower. They had breakfast together before she set off for work.
“He said he kissed her goodbye and his world was perfect,” the cop now reported. “A couple hours later she was dead and so was their child.”
The cop added, “The son would now be 25.”
Over by the South Memorial Pool stood newly retired FDNY Chief Joseph Pfeifer. He had responded to a possible gas leak in downtown Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001 and had looked up to see the first jetliner fly into the Twin Towers. He radioed that it looked like a terrorist attack and was the first officer to respond to the scene. The firefighters who died included his brother, Lt. Kevin Pfeifer.
Joseph Pfeifer is now a senior fellow in the Program on Crisis Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He continues to put the lessons of 9/11 to good use while working on ways to improve coordination and cooperation in responding to emergencies.
“National and international,” he said.
As a result of experienced thinkers such as Pfeifer, firefighters have become better at being firefighters and cops better at being cops and soldiers better at being soldiers and all of them better at working together with common purpose. To speak with him is to be reminded that partisanship and absolutism need not rule. You just need decency and a sense of duty.
Back by the North Memorial Pool, somebody had stuck the stems of four roses—two red, two white—into the inscription for T.J. Hargrave, a child actor who had become a vice president at Cantor Fitzgerald. A woman who was almost certainly a family member bowed and breathed in the scent of one of the white roses as if she were inhaling everything good about this murdered innocent. Her eyes were welling when she straightened.
The names will be read again next year, including those joined by a phrase that hangs in the air as a challenge to bring meaning to loss.
“…and her unborn child.”