(6 of 6)
The only things scarier than the questions we can't answer are the answers we can't avoid. Somewhere in the back of our minds is the knowledge that stunned us that day--knowledge about how America is seen, about where democracies are vulnerable, about what we are capable of at our very best, what courage, what creativity, what kindness individually and collectively. That knowledge, now framed as memory, still poses a challenge. When we didn't know we had the strength, there was no shame in not using it. But now that we know what we can do, how do we excuse ourselves for falling back into the shallows? "In some pathetic way, I miss the realness of it all," says Nilsen, who still has an American flag propped up in a planter in her Des Moines kitchen: "People were real, and now we're back to all this petty politicking. Not that I want another bad thing to happen, but something in me misses the kind of country we were during those weeks."
The survivors and the soldiers on the front lines still live in that country. Most of us will just be visiting sometime in the next few weeks, dragged back by a thousand hours and pages of retrospective and elegy. We will be reminded of the destruction, relive the fury and fight again the battle between the change we value and the change we fear. We're not meant to have fixed everything by the big day; as with New Year's resolutions, anniversaries are a chance to take stock and keep working. And this first one is important because with each successive one, the memory may fade. Whatever other wars we fight together, this one we each get to fight alone, defending our habits and confidence and freedom against enemies who would destroy them and using as a weapon the skills we have built by doing so. We know more now. If only we can remember that we do.
--Reported by Michael Duffy/Washington, Harlene Ellin/Chicago, Deborah Fowler/Houston, Mitch Frank/New York and Betsy Rubiner/Des Moines
Photographs by Sean Hemmerle, who, inspired by World Trade Center photographs taken before and on 9/11, revisited the site to see how the landscape had changed almost one year later