On a beautiful and clear morning, the eleventh of September, 2001, at 9:15 a.m. St. Louis time, I was preparing my classroom at St. Louis University. I was organizing transparencies for an overhead projector. A student walked in and told me to turn the classroom TV on. Something terrible was happening in New York City. I searched around and saw no TV. The student looked at me as if I was an academic dinosaur and pointed to a video projector suspended from the ceiling. Since he was so techno-savvy, I let him set it up an turn it on.
We watched in surreal time the unfolding horror captured and broadcast on a local Station. Student responses were muted. There was no chatter. Tweeting, text messaging and Facebook were yet to be. The images demanded our attention, but it would take days before we were able to process the meaning of what we had witnessed. We knew enough to be afraid, but what were we supposed to be afraid of?
Three hours later I had an appointment to confer with a web page designer. I was supposed to meet him at his office on the thirtieth floor of a downtown office building. Instead, I called him and suggested we meet in a ground level park - outside - after all such a beautiful day should not go to waste. It was my one and only encounter with the fear that a jetliner would collide with a skyscraper in St. Louis.
As the news and the day wore on, we began to learn that our world had changed. We had enemies. Our enemies were not States but rather states of mind. The 9/11 terrorists achieved their aims by using our values - the ideals we cherish - against us. They took flying lessons and sauntered through airports with knives in their pockets, because America was a free and open society, protecting its inhabitants from unreasonable searches and seizures. They sought to destroy us. They mocked our materialism and our na´ve attachment to human rights. They also knew that we would pursue them, to the ends of the earth if necessary. We would do their bidding, give them their fondest desire, martyrdom. Every suicide bomber, every improvised explosive device that killed the innocent, enraged us to the point that we would wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan and then go to war against better selves. The haters made us hate. The killers made us kill.
Ten years have passed. New buildings will rise to replace what was destroyed. The pain of indescribable grief will slowly be replaced by the soft tones of remembrance. Each one of us will attempt to offer lessons to be learned from that day. Some will sound hollow others will bring hope. It is too soon to know whether the wave of revolution sweeping from Tunisia to Syria will ultimately bring freedom and dignity, but it is not too soon to pay attention to the language of the people in the streets. Mindless martyrdom has lost its power. In each of these countries young men and women now speak of building a future for their children. The terrorists have lost.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Mark Shook is Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Israel.