Two months after the attack on the Trade Towers, I was in Manhattan. My mother was still alive back then, living in her beloved city but considering moving to assisted living. Some of the family gathered to see her.
Of course there was much discussion of the attack. My mother said, "They tried to kill us all but look, we're still here." Some of us thought the attack would draw the country together. Others thought it was divisive, that we would all be suspicious of those who didn't look like us, dress like us. A few were insistent that the country would divide over race and religion and fall apart. Eventually, most of us grabbed cabs and went down to Ground Zero.
Ground Zero. It was still burning. The smell was incredible; my eyes burned for hours afterwards. Much of it was fenced off but you could still climb some of the rubble for an overview of ruins and smoke. I walked away from my family and began to climb.
There was an African-American woman already up there. She leaned over and extended a hand. I grasped her hand and she pulled me up. We looked at each other. We said nothing, just nodded. A few minutes later, an Asian-looking man started to climb up. The other woman and I grabbed his hands, hers dark, mine pale, his golden, and pulled him up. Again, there were no words. We all looked at one another and then looked out over the pile. The man wiped away a tear. Then we heard something behind us. A brown-skinned man was trying to climb. The other two helped him up and we all stood there, shoulder to shoulder.
I said there were no words but that isn't really true. No words were spoken but there were words. After helping up the last man, the woman's jacket fell open, revealing her sweatshirt. There were words on her sweatshirt. The words were: "United We Stand".
In the gathering November dusk four Americans stood on a mound of rubble, looking across smoke and fire toward the unseeable future.