Looking back, and forward
I have nothing exciting to add to the where-were-you-on-9/11 recollections today. I was in my office at Loyola when the first plane hit. I called Kathleen, because it seemed to be a remarkable thing, and then the second plane hit. A class was meeting across the hall, and the instructor had turned the television on. One of the students sat quietly sobbing in the corner. Her father worked in the World Trade Center. I taught my class and headed immediately to The Sun, knowing that it would be a night to demand all our resources.
In that humble sequence of events, I duplicated what millions of my fellow citizens did: I registered horror, and I got down to work. There were things to do to try to make the world right again.
The attacks of September 11 were not the only events remembered in Baltimore today. This is the weekend on which Maryland marks Defenders’ Day, commemorating the time in 1814 when Baltimoreans, knowing that the militia had crumbled before the British regulars, that the Capitol and White House had been burned, and that they were next, stood up to the attack and, unknowingly, supplied the United States with a national anthem. Rockets’ red glare is being seen above Fort McHenry again, this time a symbol of our resilience.
Today was also the day that the Enoch Pratt Free Library sponsored its annual Mencken Day lecture, this year delivered by Jonathan Yardley. (Can’t tell you what he said; I’ve been at the paragraph factory.) Whatever Mencken’s faults and limitations—and they were considerable—he tirelessly worked as a journalist to inform the public, he celebrated the American language, he fostered talent in writers, and he championed liberty.
Here on Calvert Street, we are marking a more personal event, the retirement of Dick Irwin, for decades an indefatigable police reporter. You can—and should— read Peter Hermann’s tribute to him here. Mr. Irwin’s determination to worm out facts, to get them down right, and to provide them to the public never flagged. He is also a gentleman through and through. In The Sun’s newsroom, which is like all others in the frictions that develop when people are working closely, under pressure, and on deadline, I’ve never heard a single person speak ill of Dick Irwin.
I’ve collected these apparently random associations because they collectively suggest a key thing to me about this troubled day. Like the Baltimoreans of 1814, we see a threat and prepare ourselves to repel it. And we do that by buckling down to our proper work. In my case, as in Henry Mencken’s and Dick Irwin’s in our respective fields, it is to do what I can to provide accurate, intelligible information to the public so that we, still a free people, can make decisions about our lives from reasoned judgments and resolve, rather than from fear and panic. Stay steady. There’s more work to be done.