This is a week to remember, literally. It is the 15th anniversary of 9/11, which has been revered and remembered each year as a day the United States suffered greatly by an act of terrorism. Every year we see pictures of the World Trade Center towers on fire, and many people experience the memories of the terror, anger, fear, anxiety, sadness and most of all the shock that we felt during and after this tragedy. This past week was also a tragic week for a family, in Minnesota, because their missing 11 year-old son’s remains were found buried in a field less than 50 miles from his home. For almost 27 years, Jacob Wetterling’s, parents have fostered the hope that he would be found alive but this week they received the news no parent wants to get; Jacob was dead. It has been said that after September 11, America lost her innocence and would never be the same. It has also been said that after Jacob’s abduction the innocence of rural America was gone as well. Both of these events have had a lasting impact for all of us who live in the U.S.A.
While we mourn his loss, this young life has left a legacy that he will never know but all children will benefit from the actions his parents took to honor his short life. His parents, Patty and Jerry were actively focused on protecting other children from sexual predators and lobbied to introduce legislation called The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act that requires all sexual offenders to register in the states for a minimum of 10 years so that law enforcement can track their whereabouts at all times. It was passed into law in 1994. Yes our innocence was lost but now, with Jacob’s Hope, we are protecting the innocence of thousands of children in America. This is why Jacob Wetterling’s life is so important to all of us.
The story is a bit different for most Americans on 9/11. Often I hear people identify exactly were they were or what they were doing when this event happened. It was as if on that day, time stopped. On that infamous September day, my then husband and I, were standing in an English-speaking tour line at the Linderhof Palace in Bavaria, Germany. One of the other tourists received a call on his cellphone that a plane had hit the World Trade Center tower. Those of us standing in the line did not understand the enormity of what had happened until later that day. That evening, we found an inn with a satellite dish, which enabled us to see the TV coverage of what had happened back in the states. The innkeeper asked if we were Americans and once he heard the word yes, he did not hesitate to take us to a room and found a Great Britain TV station, that broadcast in English, so that we could follow the events of the day. He also said that he would do anything for us within his power to make us comfortable including deliver our meals to our door if that is what we wished. Throughout the rest of our trip, this is the same graciousness we were shown. Once the airports opened on 9/16, we were able to return home on our scheduled flight. When we landed in the U.S. airport, we waited in long lines to go through customs and it was the first time that I experienced police officers with dogs checking the passengers and the luggage. Afterwards, I was so grateful to be welcomed back, into the states, by a friendly customs officer who said he was glad I was home.
I think that life for most people that time is measured by what things happened before and then what happened after September 11, 2001. I have visited the Washington DC area before and after this unforgettable day. Before, I went anywhere in the “mall” area, to any museum, landmark and even into the capital building without a serious security checkpoint. I have visited the coffee shop in the capital building and stood outside waiting to get a glimpse of well-known congressional people as they exited the building. After 9/11, security lines and many “do not enter” signs stopped the freedom to wander in and out of federal buildings and museums that offer us so much of our history. Congress passed laws, like the Patriot Act, to try to protect us against terrorism. Those four airplanes changed the innocent life in America forever.
These two stories had a profound effect on the lives in this great nation. They are tragic stories but I see the strength and courage and even hope that has been demonstrated through these two events. Jacob’s story offered a dark world hope by shining a light on evil predators in order to protect our children. His parents never lost their hope that Jacob was alive. Even during this tragic event, they found the courage to focus on children so that other parents would not have to go through the same pain and grief they did after Jacob’s abduction. As we watch the TV shows, which are broadcast every year, regarding the events that happened on September 11, what stands out to me is the willingness of the people who sacrificed their safety and lives for others. There are many extraordinary stories about firemen and women, police, photojournalists, medics, rescue boat operators, and just ordinary people who set aside their safety to save others. There is such hope in those stories because they show that we are a united nation. Forces outside of this nation can hurt us but they cannot kill our spirit, or our hope. We are free to live, worship, get educated, work, travel and express our opinions here in the U.S. of A. What has made us great nation is our resilience and fighting spirit. One of the gentlemen who was building wooden stretchers for the rescue teams at ground zero said, “Look all around, there is every color, nation, creed and culture here, everyone is here pitching in. This is who we are, people of the U.S.” I agree we are the United States of America!