Almost everyone who has access to a public forum has weighed in on the events of Sept. 11, from David Letterman to the editors of a million newspapers worldwide.

We accept that obligation as part of what we do. I’ve often said there are some things words just can’t accomplish-but for those of us who don’t have the power to affect change on a global scale, all we have right now are these words.

And while we wish we could do more, we do what we can.

Now it’s my turn to throw my words into the ring, to sort through emotions and facts and try to emerge with something worthwhile.

Part of me wishes I could be writing my normal column right now- something filled with references to movies and armchair philosophy. (See, I’m nothing if not self-aware.)

The other part of me is determined to rise to the occasion, if at all possible. To do any less would be disrespectful at best and cowardly at worst.

So let me try.

I woke up at 11:36 a.m. that Tuesday to a ringing phone. I remember being instantly awake as I heard the news-the World Trade Center in ruins. The Pentagon damaged. Thousands dead.

And I remember saying: “Tell me this is a dream. Tell me you’re joking.”

I hung up the phone, rose from the bed, grabbed my glasses, and stumbled over to my computer. I visited online news sites, found out what I could. And as I slowly processed the disaster, I found I had to leave the room and walk out into sunlight.

The campus was unnaturally quiet around me-I have no classes on Tuesday, and I think that if I’d had any that day, I probably would’ve skipped them.

The day passed like a dream. I made and received calls from people I hadn’t talked with recently, fought the lines at the gas station, and returned to Lincolnville-as if I could escape the world by escaping Manhattan. In the car, I listened to Bob Dylan, U2, the Beatles-all the rock philosophers.

And the music didn’t help, not really. Everything seemed stripped of meaning-a by-product of the complacency we had enjoyed until that morning.

For the first time, the subject dominating my mind wasn’t how to beat writer’s block or whether I’d eventually be successful. It was fear over what lay in the days ahead, sorrow for the people in New York and Washington, the basic, immutable need to be with the people I loved.

Snapshots of life since-watching Peter Jennings deliver the unending stream of news. Beginning to write again, with perhaps more vigor than before. Bruce Springsteen starting the “America: A Tribute to Heroes” telethon with his song “My City of Ruins” and its near-gospel choir finale.

Seeing a president rise to the occasion triumphantly as George Bush delivered his joint address to Congress and the nation, restoring hope, delivering demands to the Taliban, and erasing partisanship to bring America together.

Watching countries that have historically had tense relationships with the United States send their condolences and support, recognizing that terrorism is a greater evil than any ideology that separates our governments.

People have been saying that the “Age of Irony” is dead-that we have finally seen something we can’t joke about or laugh away.

I don’t agree.

Sept. 11 was a day of unfathomable tragedy, a day where everyone living here and perhaps all over the world lost something. And there is no way to find humor there.

But there are other things to laugh about. All humor is based in irony-the presence of the unexpected and contradictory in a way that makes us smile. And if we forever lost the ability to laugh, I don’t think the victims would want that.

We mourn for them, now and forever. And we look toward an uncertain future with a slowly healing scar.

But we are strong. America is strong. And not in our rhetoric or our military power, but in the hearts of all our citizens-people who live here because of the freedom we grant.

All of us were created equal. All of us have the right to worship how we choose, or not at all. And in a country founded on differences, it is the similarities that bind us together in times of crisis.

Love. Laughter. Faith. Friendship.

And most of all, the hope for a better tomorrow.

More from article archives
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN PAUL PENNER For farmers and their families, wheat harvest is...
Read More