The names of America
American newspapers and television channels have been rushing for several days to discover new sensational stories on miraculously saved lives, emotional personal sacrifices, tragic destinies and the moments of horror on September 11, 2001. Some are eager to draw pessimistic conclusions on the worsening image of America abroad over these past ten years, on the costly wars or on the failure in Afghanistan, on the loss of civil liberties, on average Americans who have become more cautious about people around them and more distrustful of their country. Others are looking for an optimistic perspective on America's chances to recover its crushed symbols, to rise again and are finding that something of note happened in the meantime: Osama bin Laden is dead, Justice has been done.
So there's a lot to say. But there's nothing left to say when you see spouses or parents standing before the whole world, recalling names of no significance for others but which meant the whole world for them. There's nothing left to add when a sea of "no-names" reminds other "no-names" that they had children, fathers, lovers, grandchildren as well. Listen to their names, it's all there's left! One cannot hold a tear when one sees how the families of the dead, without a trace of grandiloquence or futile dramatization, speak the names emphatically and manage to bring them to life again with their love, for a second. How can one not care when a teenager tells his father he loves him, he waits for him, he misses him? What can one tell the wife who left her husband behind, in the WTC buildings, to save dozens of lives?
What is left to say when you see all those people bending over at the New York memorial, trying to collect names, paper and pencil in hand, as if trying to draw gold out of stone. Somebody was saying on the CNN that not a trace of more than half of the WTC dead was left for a proper burial. All that could be recovered was their names.
Placing a white paper over the name cast in the wall, Americans were drawing with their pencils until the name was printed on paper. Thus they could take home a lost piece of the name of the soul buried at WTC.
He who goes to the Memorial of the US soldiers killed in Vietnam, to the Holocaust Museum, to the sacred symbols of America in Washington DC from Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King Memorial will understand the respect, decency and significance average of Americans in treating their past, their dead, their heroes. You'll better understand their attachment to the flag, anthem, or soldiers abroad. Large nations always stay close to their cemeteries.
For a rather cynical European, more so for an Eastern European always imbued with small-time suspicion, all he saw these days might seem odd or theatrical. But I could see during a week in Washington how rising the terror alert level two days before the commemoration did not have much of an emotional impact. "We cannot spend the rest of our lives asking ourselves if we're going to die", an average American may think.
The creative energy of America did not go off, in spite of those anxiously waiting for the bankruptcy of the United States. It took them a year to remake the destroyed wing of the Pentagon, the new WTC is rising fast. But things are not all well. The economy is still struggling, unemployment stands at about 9.1% and prospects are overall bad. But more on these starting Monday, once Obama returns to the Jobs Act Plan and the Republicans and the Tea Party to the election of their nominee for the 2012 elections.
Sunday was the day of America's names. Their names, carved in stone above waters flowing where the Twin Towers once stood, will always remind the huge fall of a nation. By chance, on a statue of he who had a dream, I found several words which best define these days of bitter recollection: Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope".
(September 9, 2011, Columbia, South Carolina)