It is part of the human experience to be forced to endure hardships. Occasionally, a society will encounter one such common event that is powerful enough to change our entire outlook on the world. It is how we choose to remember these events, and the lessons that we learn from them, that ultimately define not only the experience itself, but ourselves as a people. This weekend, most of us will reflect on the events of 9/11/01.
We will undoubtedly be bombarded by television coverage that will touch a nerve deep within all of us. The old saying claims that time heals all wounds, but the vast range of emotions experienced by most Americans in September of 2001 have made it such that a short decade of reflection is not enough.
Many will grieve the thousands of lives lost on that morning. Others will ponder their own mortality. Some will re-hash the anger, pain, and frustration they felt that day, while still others will focus positively on the patriotic fervor that began on 9/12/01.
While individuals will focus on different aspects of the events of that dark day, every single one of us will relive The Moment…that instant that we realized the depth of what was happening…The Moment that we lost our (relative) innocence as a society…The Moment that we lost our naivety …The Moment that drastically altered the course of world events for the foreseeable decades.
So, what is the legacy of 9/11? Is it that loss of innocence which will define it? Perhaps the individual lives lost? Or is it the policy decisions and wars that have followed?
When I think about the legacy of the worst day in American history, I think about the passengers of Flight 93, who were essentially forced into a suicide mission to save lives on the ground. I think of the Ports Authority workers and firemen who ran up the stairs of the World Trade Center into a hopeless inferno in order to help their fellow man. I think about the men who worked tirelessly at Ground Zero for months, many of whom are now suffering through cancer from the exposure to toxic fumes. I think about the firemen, new and old, who still pause for a moment to reflect on photos in makeshift memorials in firehouses throughout New York City, and then jump on their rig and speed off into harm’s way. I think about my countless friends that have enlisted and served in the Armed Forces, knowing full well the inevitable sacrifices and dangers of their service. I think of all of those who have served, and continue to serve, honorably. I think of God, and then thank Him for the heroes of that day, and those that have emerged as heroes since.
I think of the way that we banded together as one people, united in a cause, and I see that as hope for the future of what truly is “The Last, Best Hope of Mankind”: the United States of America. We suffer hardships, we make mistakes, and there are times when we find ourselves in such a state of disunion over political issues that we wonder if the American Dream is fading into the annals of history. But, when circumstances are at their worst, that which makes America so great is at its best: the intrinsic goodness in each of us, regardless of race, sex, or political affiliation. In fact, the very attacks conjured up and perpetrated to weaken the American resolve serve only to strengthen it, and no bombs or terrorists will ever weaken that steel.
This weekend, expect political posturing and retrospective finger-pointing to devour some portion of the dialogue, but remember the true legacy of September 11th, 2001:
When we were presented with The Moment, we made it Our Moment!