I stood at a busy lunch counter in Little Havana as I
watched the Twin Towers topple.
Gawking at an overhead TV wedged atop the well-worn
appliances, it was a good thing I was speechless. When people are angry, their
blood starts pumping faster, and they draw on their deepest, untranslatable
feelings, which are housed forever in their native tongue. Standing as I was
amid a mass of Cubanos, or the children of Cubanos, I would have had trouble
Everyone understanding one another, though, that was not a
problem. Something was deathly wrong with what was happening.
Not having a TV in my apartment, which overlooked the Miami
airport, I had rushed down to the sidewalk as soon as a friend had called from
the West Coast, and headed to the place off NW Seventh Street where I liked to
get a Cuban breakfast, with café con leche. I stayed long enough to be hit over
the head with a baseball bat, figuratively speaking of course, and returned
The next morning began an eerie week. I had grown used to
the roar of jets taking off at the crack of dawn, and so the early morning
quiet we all prize now seemed out of place where I lived. Once flights resumed,
I was grateful they were waking me up.
I remember writing a profanity-laced poem later that day,
addressing my thoughts on Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, but fortunately that
work has been lost to posterity.
Unfortunately, however, what also appears to be lost to
posterity is something far more valuable. It is not something I wrote, but
something that was written years before. It is not something that can be lost
when a hard drive crashes or a floppy disk, which is what I was using then, becomes
It is something similar to the words on pieces of parchment encased
in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom at the National Archives.
There you find the originals of the United States
Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. There
you can read words in elegant cursive writing, such as, and I quote We the
People of the United States, and Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent
of the States, and appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the
rectitude of our intentions and And as extending the ground of public
confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its
For those who may be a little rusty on the meaning of beneficent,
it is defined as doing or producing good, performing acts of kindness and
charity. And for those unclear as to rectitude, it means moral integrity,
righteousness, the quality or state of being correct in judgment or procedure.
Those two words, beneficent and rectitude, have not been
lost, you can still peer down into the cases in the Rotunda and read them.
But where they are written on the hearts of Americans, that
is where they have been obscured over the last 20 years.
I will not bore you with lectures, or scold you with sanctimony.
We all know what we have lost, and we all know what we, and I believe most all
of us, want to find again.
That collective, patriotic spirit of kindness and charity
when it comes to our politics. That moral integrity that comes with debating openly,
and honestly, while shunning personal attack and unfounded denunciations and aspersions.
As we commemorate that fateful day 20 years ago, lets
consider that in a giant sense, we are all watching the world unfold at a lunch
counter, surrounded by others with whom communication can be a challenge, with whom
meaning can be garbled in translation.
But we all know what we mean in our heart of hearts.
Sometimes being speechless speaks closest to our beneficence and rectitude.