Sixteen years ago today, a group of demented men inflicted death and terror on America, setting this date on the calendar apart from the others for the rest of our lifetimes.
Across Georgia and surrounding areas today, Mother Nature stands to do something very different, and yet all too similar.
Understand, I’m not likening the two actual events. What those jihadist hijackers did on Sept. 11, 2001, was unexpected, couldn’t be planned for, built a body count into the thousands, and unleashed, among other things, a war in Afghanistan that has claimed many more lives and still rages on more than a decade and a half later. The evil perpetrated by man is of a different nature than that wrought by the Earth itself. Fortunately, for the most part we can predict cataclysmic weather, gird ourselves and our property for it, or else seek refuge elsewhere as millions already have. No one strolls into the office at 8 o’clock on a Tuesday morning not knowing a hurricane will level their building within a couple of hours. A hurricane may be terrifying, but it does not leave the same terror that another attack could happen anytime.
What is similar is the line of demarcation set by events like 9/11 and Hurricane Irma. There is before and there is after, and for many people what they know from now on will never be quite the same as what they knew as recently as yesterday. For many it will be heart-wrenchingly different.
Southwest Georgia, which lies squarely in Irma’s path, in some ways hasn’t quite recovered from the flooding of the Flint River caused by Tropical Storm Alberto in 1994. We can hope Irma won’t cause the same lasting damage, but right now matters don’t look promising.
And so the response to this Sept. 11, as with the one 16 years ago in New York City and Washington, D.C. — and as with the one to Sept. 10 in Florida, and the one to Sept. 5 in Barbuda, and the one to Aug. 26 along the Texas coast — must be one of generosity and long-term resolve. Americans got in their fishing boats and opened their wallets after Harvey ravaged Houston. The same combination of elbow grease and financial support will be needed from the Caribbean to Georgia and beyond.
Anytime things like this happen, you will hear people blame the victims for what has happened. In the case of the recent hurricanes, it’s everything from zoning laws to divine punishment for the election of Donald Trump. I don’t share that ideology or that theology. But I will say this: An event like Irma, whether or not it has some kind of rational cause, is an opportunity for us to show the kind of compassion that is sometimes lacking or just latent in contemporary America. Don’t miss this one.