Twenty years after we lost 2,977 people who had just started another day of helping, growing, feeding, building, inspiring and protecting others? Twenty years after those disbelieving hours on an achingly beautiful, blue-skied Tuesday morning? Twenty years after we first mourned the loss of fellow Tar Heels — the exceptional human beings who were making a difference in the lives of others and dreaming big dreams and living without fear? The six alumni who went to work, who got on a plane, who never came home.
We turned our eyes to Manhattan, we turned our eyes to Washington D.C., we turned our eyes to a lonely field in Shanksville, Pa., and then we turned our eyes to ourselves: Who, we wondered, will we become now?
In the best places of our souls, we thought that we’d arrive at that identity together. A country of many backgrounds, many faiths, many ways to love, many hands to help the healing, many flaws but so much promise. And a campus just the same. There were stars and stripes hanging from the Bell Tower and from half-built dorms on South Campus. There were stars and stripes sewn on to football uniforms and flying from businesses and fluttering on Franklin and pinned to our caps and ironed on to our shirts and affixed to our cars.
But we were reminded, too, that souls have dark places where banners of division can fly, and we shined a light on those spaces. We listened to Chancellor James Moeser as he implored us to “be the kind of community that shuts no one out at a time when we all need each other.” We made solemn journeys to a wall of remembrance in Polk Place, a communal marker of our grief and emotion. There, under a half-mast shadow, we let it all flow unfiltered from our chalked fingertips: the sadness, the anger, the fear, the worry, the hope. We wrote epitaphs and we wrote prologues. We wrote what we felt.
Remember, first love one another.
May this tragedy be remembered as a turning point. May peace & the goodness of humanity prevail …
But morning let us pass/And day by day relief/Outgrows his nervous laugh/Grows credulous of peace … W.H. Auden
Fear will hold you prisoner. Hope will set you free.
Where are we now, Carolina, 20 years after the fall of the towers stopped our hearts?
Still beating. Still hoping. Still remembering.
— Beth McNichol ’95