Attracting hope years after 9/11

The Tribute in Light 9/11 memorial next to the new One World Trade Center in 2012. (PHOTO: Anthony Quintano, Flickr CC)

The Tribute in Light 9/11 memorial next to the new One World Trade Center in 2012. (PHOTO: Anthony Quintano, Flickr CC)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

I was almost done editing the Sept. 11, 2001 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Then another. Then one more hit the Pentagon. What? Another in a field somewhere?

At some point I knocked a tray of story ideas off my desk: press releases and notes scribbled on yellow legal paper. Too busy to pick them up, I stomped on them the rest of the day. Eventually I threw them out. They no longer pertained to this new world. By high noon, we had torn down the previous edition of America from the front page, never to return.

We didn’t know that then, but we know it now. America and the world changed considerably after 9/11. We changed in ways I’m not sure we all realize yet. Fifteen years have gone by and I feel like a small man on a small boat watching a glacier fall into the sea. Hold tight to the bow; the ice will soon hit water.

We didn’t know that 9/11 would lead to perpetual war. First we fought the enemies that hit us. Then we fought other old foes on some bad information. Now our soldiers, just children when 9/11 happened, fight different terrorists, no older, radicalized in the wake of 9/11 foreign policy.

We didn’t know that post-9/11 division would eventually polarize America’s political spectrum, turning the colors of ROY G. BIV into dark hues of Red and Blue. We didn’t know, but we should have, how deep racial prejudice and resentment still cut 150 years after the nation’s original sin of slavery was abolished. Economic inequality? By any measure, it increased tremendously after that fateful day 15 years ago.

All of the ingredients were already there. For those affected, these issues are hardly new. 9/11 just ripped away the illusions. 9/11 broke the mirror we used to make the world seem small.

Today’s Iron Range, tucked away in the woods of Northern Minnesota, faces the same global change that affects foreign policy, technology and economics. And because of our tight-knit culture, rich in tradition, we have reacted to this new world in a completely predictable way: We seek protection. No one ever admits to fearing change, but we do a good job of locking the door when we hear it might come around.

I hear more racism in the public square, not less. I hear more xenophobia, not less. In a region wracked by population loss, declining school enrollments and shuttered downtowns, the thinking seems to be that no one new is good enough to walk our decaying streets.

That is neither good business nor morally defensible. What’s true for the Range is true for America — policies of attraction and optimism are far more powerful than those of exclusion and fear.

I remember another time at the editor’s desk when the late Hibbing booster Bob Kitchen hand delivered a red hot letter to the editor taking certain people in town to task. A few hours later he returned and asked to take it back.

“You attract bees with honey not vinegar,” he told me as I handed it over. Kitchen has been gone a few years now, but I remember this act vividly, while I’ve long forgotten the subject of his letter.

To defeat hate and loss we must attract hope, love and strength. These may be found in all corners of our community, and across the world, if we only open our hearts to the possibilities. We may be small, but we need not be alone.

The world changed. So it must. So must we all. The only true choice is whether to embrace a higher purpose or the low sadness of misplaced nostalgia for an old world now gone, if it ever truly existed at all.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


  1. Teresa Sterns says

    Yes. This. I like the perspective that we were already hurting but 9/11 ripped away the illusion that all was OK. As we watch our politics today we see, what I hope is, the last laboring breaths of a country that is afraid of change, is afraid of people who are different and who is confused about our commitment to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and religious freedom. We had a golden opportunity on 9/11/01 to embrace the love shared by the world, but instead we closed ranks and embraced fear. There have been glimmers or love of late – but still nearly 50% of our friends and fellow Americans have heals dug in and hope the hatches remained battened down with walls, tough talk of wars, limits on who’s insured, etc. Finding, and telling the stories of the folks in our communities that are doing great, that are growing and that have great ideas for the future is so important. Thanks for helping with that.

  2. I agree Teresa…we’re all capable of promoting “good”, and focusing on the positive. But, the tone set from the top carries significant weight and influence, both in how we act and react.

    It would really help if those at the top stop calling 10’s of millions of people racists, xenophobes, Islamophobes, homophobes…summed up as “deplorables”, when they’re not.

    It would really help if those at the top wouldn’t have been found likely to have committed roughly thirty thousand felonies by destroying e-mails subpoenaed by the U.S. Congress and smashing Blackberries to bits with hammers and “bleaching” the remains to delete thousands of others.

    It would really help if those at the top wouldn’t have bullied women her husband molested and sometimes raped, who shamed them and humiliated them and broke their spirits and threatened their children then called the people who want to keep convicted rapists out of this country “disgraceful.”

    It would really help if those at the top wouldn’t have led a US Ambassador to be anally sodomized and murdered by her contempt and inaction, then blamed it all on a harmless maker of satiric films and sent him to prison and then sneered about the dead and her incompetence, “What difference — at this point, what difference does it make?”

    It would really help if those at the top wouldn’t think people who want to have the police enforce the laws and keep thugs in prison are disgraceful.

    It would really help if those at the top wouldn’t have destroyed the reputation of the FBI and made the Justice Department they’re personal handmaiden, preventing those who want to honor real law enforcement and call them racists.

    It would really help if those at the top wouldn’t promote dividing us up in so many ways we’d never thought of and enable us to so easily hate each other.

    Along with you, many of us are trying to awaken from this nightmare. But with so much contempt for truth and law coming from the top, it’s tough. Our only hope is to persevere, always take the high road and have faith that God is in control.

  3. Instead of always saying “look at the top” you should look unto yourself…

    • Most certainly we should look “unto ourselves” and our actions Don. They’re very important to us…and those around us.

      However, you miss the whole point. The top has influence that is infinitely more broad, more immediate, more societal and more global. The impact you and I can have by ramming a stick up someones backside might make news in the Grand Rapids Herald but look at the impact it had when someone from the top was responsible for it. Plus, you or I haven’t and hopefully won’t do the things mentioned. The top has…and continues to.

  4. Xenophobia, racism, homophobia, sexism: When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. Words and actions matter.

    • kissa…you mean words like when the top said she had experience dealing with wild men when they “get off the reservation”?

      Or was it when the top said of one of her husband victims, “we have to destroy her story”?

      Or was it when the top said of our current president, “A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee”?

      Or was it when the top said young black men are “super-predators” indicating that she thought all young black males were violent criminals?

      Or was it when the top said “We have to bring them to heel,” like young blacks are the same as dogs?

  5. What right- wing crazy sites are you getting your “facts” from, Ranger? You must have boxes full of them to call up at a moment’s notice….and if any truth at all, taken way out of context.

  6. Never been a print subscriber to Scenic Range news, but Duluth News Trib , the Strib,and GRHR forever, and many online sources including NYT and Washington Post. I assume your snark was implying my reading is limited .Wrong…

    • Wow kissa, I click into those as well…so don’t drop what you’re reading.

      But for goodness sake, round yourself out a bit. Try The American Thinker, The New York Post, The American Spectator, The WSJ, The National Review, The Daily Caller or RealClearPolitics.

      You might find them “deplorable” but they’re representative of what more than half the country is reading, and thinking. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt.”

  7. If you haven’t seen those quotes before you’ve been reading selectively. They aren’t exactly new news.

  8. Well to be precise I recognize a majority of them off the top of my head.

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