By Dawn Onley
Tomorrow marks a sad day in our nation’s history. It also marks one of the happiest days in my family’s history.
The terroristic attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 will forever live in infamy in America. When the terrorists commandeered four planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, it forever changed who we were as a nation. It made us aware of our surroundings in a way that no other act had before or since. This was personal. This was on our turf.
We all can remember where we were that day. I had arrived early to work in a newsroom in Silver Spring, MD and watched the TV in horror as the first plane crashed, and then the second, third and fourth. I, like millions of other people, wondered if there were more attacks coming. I didn’t feel safe, due to the close proximity to our nation’s capital. At the time, I covered the military and its use of information technology for a business trade pub then owned by The Washington Post. I knew the attack on the Pentagon was going to be a huge story for years to come, so I immediately started making calls, and, like other journalists, drafted stories that were relevant to our audience.
But long before “9-11” threatened to destroy our collective peace, my grandmother was welcoming her first baby girl to the world. After two boys, my grandmother was so excited to finally get her girl that she named her Joy. She was born after her father was sent to France and Germany to fight during World War II, so she didn’t get to meet the man she affectionately called poppy until she was a toddler.
Joy is my lovely mom, whose birthday is on that ill-fated day. She is a beautiful person with a generous and gregarious spirit. In the years after 9-11, I would catch her watching the news coverage for hours, visibly somber as family members and friends of the victims paid tribute and grieved their losses.
It’s not as if she hadn’t experienced the worst of people before, even firsthand. In September 1958, my mom was one of a handful of black students who desegregated an all-white high school in my hometown of Frederick, Maryland. This was exactly one year after 9 black students made national news for integrating the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
She has certainly known troubling times. Still, on the day that we celebrate our entry into the world, hers will forevermore be bittersweet and melancholy.
But I would come to realize that it is precisely my mom’s spirit and name that our nation has to hold onto during the worst of times. It stands in defiance of what the hijackers sought to destroy that day – our spirit.
In remarks last year commemorating the day, President Obama said: “America endures in the strength of your families, who, through your anguish, kept living. You’ve kept alive a love that no act of terror could ever extinguish.”
He added that the terrorists sought to do much more than destroy buildings and kill thousands of innocent people. “They sought to break our spirit and to prove to the world that their power to destroy was greater than our power to persevere and to build.”
We must continue to endure. We must fight evil with good, or else evil wins. We must find ways to unite, for a house divided will fall.
Like my mom, we must always cling to hope, come what may.
In our darkest hours, we must never lose our joy. We must defiantly celebrate, just because they hoped we wouldn’t.