Eight years have past since I watched aghast on Sept. 11, 2001, as the second jetliner plowed into one of the Twin Towers, which ended up as rubble on the busy streets of Manhattan.
An act of terrorism didn’t just leave two buildings in a heap; the American spirit was left in shambles, too. For the first time in perhaps a generation, this country had its confidence shaken.
Not that America hasn’t had its share of tragic times, it has. No one who came of age in the late 1920s and '30s can forget the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the '60s, the streets of big cities ran red with blood as race riots threatened to split America at the seams: one side white; the other black.
Of a more recent vintage, the bombing in Oklahoma City scared this country straight.
Yet all these bloody events did, and others as well, was test our fortitude. Americans proved they weren’t going to put their democracy in a storage shed. They were going to work hard – and work together -- to reassemble the pieces.
The hard work began quickly. The act of terror on U.S. soil did bring this nation together. The dust and smoke were still thick in the New York City air when people like Bobby Valentine, the Mets manager at the time, rolled up their sleeves.
Sift through the memories of Sept. 11, 2001, and pictures of Valentine stand out in Technicolor. He was on the front lines. He had accepted immediately a call to action, even though no one had issued the call.
With the nation and a baseball season at a standstill, Valentine lent his time and his money to help New York. He was everywhere he could be, doing whatever he could to jumpstart the city.
I still think about what Valentine did because, once the baseball schedule resumed, I was sent to Pittsburgh to cover the Mets-Pirates series, which had been moved from New York City because old Shea Stadium was a staging ground for rescue workers.
Inside PNC Park, Valentine gave what might have been the most profound pregame speech I had ever heard. He said not much about baseball, although reporters were in his office to talk baseball. He spoke about how proud he was of his players for pitching in. He spoke about his belief that America would stand tall again in the face of this horrific event and that its people would come together.
And its people did.
They shook off the fear that had paralyzed this country and went back to doing what Valentine, the best manager not working in the big leagues today, knew Americans would do: go on with living.
Eight years later, they haven’t buried 9/11. They never will; 9/11 hurts too much still. But they can’t stop doing what helped this country rebound.
Facing another crisis – and economic one -- they must pitch in now, lend a hand to someone else, let loose of the partisan rancor and accept that America is stronger as a whole than as a nation splintered.
Valentine, among others, helped spread that lesson. And memories of the Twin Towers, even if the mention of Valentine’s name might not, should remind each American what can be done when he takes on causes that matter.