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We came together after 9/11 to share the grief and move forward; how did we get from there to here?

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One of the things I remember most about September 11 was how we craved the company of others, how being together comforted our souls shaken by the unspeakable.

I worked a long, long day on 9/11. It started with a Howell chamber “Good Morning Livingston” breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and ended 19 hours later with me saying goodnight to Buddy Moorehouse in the parking lot of the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus after we put the next day’s edition to bed.

It was the first huge story we covered since becoming Michigan’s newest daily newspaper just a year earlier, and the staff rose to the occasion and worked hard; really, really hard. For me, the hard work was a blessing, serving as an emotional shield: as long as I was working, working, working, I didn’t have time to let the horror of the day sink in.

I was grumbly about getting up extra early. I resented putting on makeup and a nicer-than-usual outfit for the Good Morning Livingston crowd of community movers and shakers; what I really wanted was to spend that time with my toddler.

Despite my not wanting to be at the breakfast, the program — “What’s New in Livingston County” — was surprisingly uplifting and enjoyable. There was a joie de vivre in the room, and when I drove to the office I felt happy and inspired, my music up loud, my windows down as I reveled in the sunshine and warm temperatures of that gorgeous early fall morning.

I arrived at the office to find everyone huddled around the television in the middle of the newsroom.

“Uh, oh,” I remember saying out loud. “Something big must have happened.”

When I said “something big,” I imagined something like the pursuit of O.J.’s white Bronco along a California highway, for some reason.

A second later I witnessed the second plane fly into the World Trade Center in real time.

We stood together, silently, huddled as if to buoy each other so our knees wouldn’t buckle as we watched that plane slice through the tower as easily as my knife made its way through a sausage link just an hour or so earlier.

For a second, I thought I might vomit.

And then, I rushed to my son’s daycare. I wrote about it in this column that I rerun every year on 9/11.

When I returned to the office, we worked.

For dinner, I met my family at Tomato Bros.: my mom and dad (both of whom have since died), my sister, my husband, and my baby boy. The restaurant was jammed, which was kind of unusual for a Tuesday, and it was buzzing with busy-ness and people comparing news stories and theories about the attack on our nation, finding solace and strength in the company of others.

We were going through it together.

That so many of us were crowded into the restaurant comforted me, like a collective hug, or the weighted blanket under which I sleep these days. Sharing the disbelief and horror didn’t lessen it, not at all, but it somehow made it easier to bear, and it’s that feeling I remember most.

After dinner, it was back to work, and we were at it until 2:30 a.m., producing an impressive record of the day.

I’ve included those pages here if you’d like to see how we chronicled what 9/11 was like in Livingston County.

9-11 in Livingston County

I still think about the emotions competing inside me that day — equal parts grief and exhilaration, horror and pride — on the longest, saddest, scariest day ever in which we also managed to produce an amazing newspaper.

It wasn’t until I got home that the horror of the day and the realization that our lives had changed forever sunk in. I cried as I watched the breaking news reports on television until I finally fell asleep on the couch.

We kept working, working, working over the next few days. I put out the idea for a candlelight vigil on the lawn of the historic Livingston County Courthouse for Sunday 9/16, and, just like that, the event — coordinated by the paper, WHMI-93.5, the Howell and Brighton chambers, and the Howell Jaycees — came together. People volunteered equipment and candles; the county government hustled us a permit; we lined up speakers and singers; we put the word out and it spread quickly; in the end, a couple thousand people showed up.

I remember how it felt at the vigil, all of us banding together, once again standing close so our knees wouldn’t buckle under all the grief; sharing the emotional burden kept us upright and moving forward. Coming together, grieving together was what we needed, and in doing so we showed the world — and ourselves — how resilient and steadfast and righteous a people we were.

You can see all the people who turned out in this photo that ran in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus.

Livingston County came together like never before, with us helping in every way we could imagine: we worked on vigils and memorial services; we collected blood and money; law enforcement and emergency workers made their way to New York to lend their love and strength and hands, as did church groups and other community organizations. We knew what was needed; instinctively we realized that we either pulled together or fell apart, and pull together we did.

What happened in Livingston County wasn’t unique; the collective response to the attacks took place in communities across the country.

We were truly one nation, under God.

That was 20 years ago.

Here we are, two decades later, battling a pandemic, and we can’t come together to save our souls.

The strength and love and charity we extended willingly to each other has evaporated, it seems, to be replaced by selfishness and anger and nihilism.

I look back on the way we were and struggle to understand how we are. How did we become a pack of snarling, selfish beings, addicted to that which feeds the worst parts of our souls? How did we go from open hearts and helping hands to bullying those we consider our enemies instead of realizing that they our neighbors?

When did political posturing replace math and science and basic decency? How did drum beating and chest thumping and crowd whipping replace common cause? And who would have ever thought that performing community service would mean putting oneself at the mercy of those you wish to serve?

This span of two decades could just as easily be two centuries or two eras, that’s how different we’ve become.

I am not smart enough to know precisely how we got from there to here, so I won’t even attempt a theory.

It’s like we’re standing in the shadow of love. To keep quoting from the Book of Motown, as I struggle with my thoughts in these early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2021, knowing how good we were and how good we could and should be, I ask only this:

Baby, baby, where did our love go?

 

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