Somber reflection due for the people who died

When the National September 11 Memorial opened 10 years ago, its architect, Michael Arad, chose not to list the names of the victims in alphabetical order.

Instead, according to PBS.org, Arad requested input from the families and friends of victims to create a list that has the names “etched in permanent relationships to those with whom they lived, worked and died.”

“They wanted to make a latticework of meaning underneath all those names,” Jake Barton, memorial co-designer, told PBS. “You have families clustered together, best friends, even incredible stories of strangers who died on that day, all of which was identified through this process to create meaningful adjacency.”

On the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks — an event fraught with implications for how the U.S. interacts with the world and with its own citizens — the decision by the memorial’s designers is more important than ever.

The 2,982 names on the memorial will never be first and foremost evidence of the case for or against the Patriot Act. Or the global war on terror, or the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, tougher immigration hurdles or any other aspect of public policy.

They are sisters and brothers, fathers, mothers, daughters and sons to the still grieving. They are friends and co-workers and fellow church and synagogue members to communities across the country. They were people who went to PTA meetings and chatted with the owner of the neighborhood bodega and coffee shop. They were people with dreams and aspirations, ambitions and hopes for better lives for their children and grandchildren.

They were people.

And while we recognize the importance of many of the debates that have followed Sept. 11, 2001, while we want our nation to rise to the occasion, to ensure adequate support for veterans as they have returned from Afghanistan, we don’t want to lose sight of one fact.

We want our nation to have an honest dialogue about the best way to eradicate violent religious extremism. We want the United States to have an honest dialogue about how to provide the needed services for first responders — those who have been afflicted by their heroism at Ground Zero and those across the country afflicted by other acts of heroism. We want our country to debate how to best confront the evil of violent Islamic extremism and we want our country to examine the consequences of nation-building and interventionism.

But we can’t lose sight of one fact. The 2,982 who died 20 years ago today were people. And they deserve our somber reflection today, on their sacrifices, not as tallies on a score card for any debate, no matter how important, but as people.

Not as anything less than people.


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