Almost 20 years later, the vestiges of 9/11, both emotional and physical, remain

Sept. 11, 2020
President’s Message by By Elizabeth Hughes

It was a Tuesday morning and I remember looking up at the bluest sky I had ever seen, in sheer amazement at its cloudlessness. As I drove into Oakland that morning, a 1L student at Pitt Law, my main concern was wondering if I would get called on in Contracts class that day. Class began at 9 a.m. and there was no reason to believe that this would be different than any other day that I had shown up in the past few weeks, heavy green backpack in tow, to hear Professor Madison lecture on offer and acceptance. As a then 30-year-old student who had decided after seven years in the workforce to go to law school, I was still getting used to its routine and rigors. On this Tuesday, we had only been in school for a few short weeks and I was still recovering from the loss of my grandmother the week before. However, this Tuesday was not like any other Tuesday. This Tuesday was Sept. 11, 2001.

The entire world changed that day, and much like the reality that we are living in with COVID-19, we experienced uncertainty, anger, and sadness. Almost 20 years later, the vestiges of that day, both emotional and physical, remain with us. There are little reminders, like the news ticker on the bottom of the television screen that never goes away, leftover from a time when the names of missing victims scrolled one after the other. There are nagging inconveniences at airport security, like taking your shoes off and relegating your travel necessities to tiny three ounce travel bottles that were borne out of safety precautions from that day. Then there are the epic reminders, like the two giant reflecting pools where the Twin Towers once stood, the rebuilt Pentagon or the Flight 93 Memorial.

As Americans do in the face of unthinkable challenges, “everyday people” rose up and banded together to save strangers and people risked their lives to help those who were injured in a desperate journey toward safety. The passengers on Flight 93 sacrificed their lives for the rest of us when they realized the horrible truth of what was happening. And for a time, we were one. One unified country, grieving together, moving forward together through uncertainty. However, little by little, somewhere along the way, it feels like we forgot how we felt that day and how we banded together in the days that followed, our very sanity and survival depending on the strength of the collective.

Fast forward 19 years and we are facing a worldwide pandemic. We will surely be facing a brand new reality after COVID-19, just like we did after 9/11. The way we traveled changed, the way we attended concerts and football games and museums changed. We were on high alert and anxious. We are once again feeling the same uncertainty, anger, and sadness, but instead of coming together, we often find ourselves at odds over just about everything. We were able to persevere above fear and endure through the grief of 9/11 because we reached out to one another, to family and strangers alike, to share our concerns and comfort each other.

The COVID-19 crisis has unfortunately shrouded a lot of us in isolation and isolation can make us sad and angry, or sadder or angrier, which just adds to the discord around us and between us. While we can’t reach out physically in many instances, we can reach out in other ways. Be kind. Check in on a colleague that you haven’t heard from in a while. If you are on social media tweeting or posting on Instagram, take a minute to send a message to check on a friend. Follow up with your clients to make sure that they are navigating through this difficult time to see if there are creative ways for you to help them with your expertise. Reach out for help if you need it. The ACBA is here to assist you, whether it is through the Lawyers’ Fund or connecting you with resources like Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers to assist with professional or personal challenges you might be facing right now. Check in with yourself and make sure that YOU are okay, and if you aren’t please reach out to somebody. The only way that we are going to get through this is by taking care of one another and checking in on your neighbor.

The past informs us of our future and provides us with lessons so that we can get through dark days and difficult times. We have come out stronger on the other side of darkness before. The vestiges of COVID-19 will remain, long after we have defeated this unseen enemy, just as the shadow of 9/11 lingers. How we choose to move forward will dictate how we cross over that canyon of doubt in these times and how we will commit to treating each other in the spaces between this and the next test that we face. Take a moment, reflect on this day, and remember how we got from there to here, together.