9/11 vigil in Atlantic Highlands
9/11 vigil in Atlantic Highlands in 2001. photo: Allan Dean (AHH)

At 9:46 pm, Saturday, September 11th, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Middletown residents will gather, light source in hand (candle, cell phone, flashlight) at the Belford Ferry Terminal to light up the night in remembrance of all the victims, including the 37 Middletown residents, who lost their lives that day. As part of the joint effort of 53 Monmouth County municipalities, the “Light Up the Shoreline” event promises to be a meaningful gesture.

No doubt, during the preceding week, social media will be flooded with calls for thoughts/prayers, and appropriate hashtags, like the ever popular #NeverForget.

#NeverForget. That’s powerful. But look around. It seems as though we have already forgotten.

While the four coordinated terrorist attacks upon the United States by al-Qaeda in 2001, and the many lives lost (2,750 in New York, 184 at the Pentagon, and 40 in Pennsylvania), are forever etched in America’s memory, the collective goodness that occurred on that day and thereafter seems to have been diminished with the passage of time. We’ve forgotten who we were back then.

In New York, as the attacks unfolded, and the World Trade Center collapsed, people instinctively rushed to help one another. People reached for one another as they fled the toxic ash, debris, and smoke. People downtown immediately rendered aid, gave shelter, food, water, clothing to strangers in need. Private vessels in the harbor freely joined the evacuation effort. Those waiting at home for word of their loved ones held hands with total strangers and prayed. And when the smoke cleared, New Yorkers stood side-by-side in the rescue and recovery efforts. We mourned together. We recognized within one another the basic human need for kindness, for comfort. Race, ethnicity, religion, and political affiliation were never considered. Together, we saw evil and called it out. We were equal, united, keenly aware of the importance of humanity and the impact of a gentle touch, a sincere prayer.

That was then. This is now.

We are no longer united or tolerant. We do not regard one another as equals. We are no longer trusting. We see lies, conspiracy, and deceit everywhere. We are guarded. “If you’re not with me,” we think, “you’re against me!” The Covid-19 pandemic has deepened our division. We are either pro-mask or anti-mask, pro-vaccine or an anti-vaxxer. We are pro-Fauci, or we  emphatically reject his science. We either accept mask mandates or we are vehemently opposed. We want our kids in the classroom. We want them at home. We blame former President Trump. We blame President Biden. To some, the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capital was an acceptable action by “tourists.” Others view it as an insurrection, an attempted coup by home-grown terrorists. We are an angry bunch. We attack one another in the streets, and we are abusive on social media. We no longer recognize evil. Humanity, equality, and respect have fallen by the wayside.

And now, once again, we face another 9/11 anniversary.

It’s good that we will come together for the 20th anniversary of the attacks. We need to come together, if only for a few minutes as we “light up the shoreline” to honor the fallen. But when the lights are extinguished, and we go our separate ways, who will we be? Will we honor those we loved and lost twenty years ago by practicing tolerance in their memory? Will we temper our anger with reason and respect? Will we actively remember the kindness that rose from the ashes of that fateful day and thus, in some small way, lay a foundation of kindness and solidarity that may someday prevent or defend us against future tragedy?

We must reclaim our common humanity or lighting up the shoreline, posting hashtags, and sending thoughts and prayers is meaningless.

This 9/11, and always, remember the lives lost. Remember those who mourn. Remember those who still suffer the aftermath. Remember. Respect. Unite.


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Anne Mikolay

Anne Mikolay

Anne M. Mikolay joined The Atlantic Highlands Herald as a columnist in 2008. Prior to penning “The Armchair Critic,” Anne wrote feature articles for The Monmouth Journal. Her work has appeared in national...