9/11 Column

It has been 16 years since the clear morning sky of September 11th, 2001 was filled with black billows of smoke; 16 years since the families of the victims were whole; 16 years since the bravest among us walked towards the fire and the smoke, putting themselves in harm’s way to rescue people they never knew.

In the 16 years since the attack on the World Trade Center, writers and orators have delivered stirring and eloquent remembrances of the heroes who were lost. And so all that is left to say is that they are not forgotten, and we continue to grieve for them and their families.

The events of September 11th were not merely an attack on the steel frame of the World Trade Center, or an attack on the skyline of New York - it was an attack on the very principles and values of our great nation; it was an attack on the freedom and liberty that illuminate our shining city on a hill.

What often goes unremembered is that Tuesday, September 11th was an election day, a sacred day when people were celebrating their birthright as citizens of a democratic republic by participating in free and fair elections.

Halfway around the world, a plan was hatched by those who resented the freedoms our nation affords us, a plan to sow fear and terror on American soil; they attempted to seize upon the lingering divisions in our country following a contested presidential election which ended in the Supreme Court.

Their goal was to sabotage our democracy, using violence and fear as a means to coerce a free society into forfeiting its hard won freedoms in the name of security.

And yet a curious thing happened as the towers fell. Rather than driving apart a nation that had just gone through a divisive election, it brought us together. It forced us to set aside the petty political squabbles of the day, and see our neighbors not as Democrats or Republicans, not as white or black, or Asian or Latino, or straight or gay or transgender, but to see each other as Americans above all else.

It seemed that in the wake of the attacks on our country, every house on every street was flying a flag.

Contrary to their goals, the collective trauma of that day failed to sow the chaos and fear that can topple democracies. Instead, that day replaced our fractured national identity with a formidable sense of collective solidarity. Vigils were held, communities gathered together, and people spoke openly and honestly to their neighbors, giving and receiving the comfort needed to get through tough times.

As the years pass, and the pain of that day fades, it seems as though we are falling back into the same divided nation that we once were. Partisanship is greater than it has ever been; racial animosity is growing; and groups whose hateful messages have no place in the public discourse are ascendant and emboldened. Elections feel like life or death battles; the other side is a danger to our nation; and we rarely venture out of the safety of our own bubbles to speak to those with whom we disagree.

In the days and weeks that followed 9/11, we resisted an attempt to hijack our democracy by coming together as one nation. In the years that have followed, we have allowed that unity to erode.

16 years later, we contemplate the legacy and the meaning of that day, let us join together in our shared resolve that America’s promise to her citizens will not falter; that free and fair elections would be decided by all people who comprise our nation; and that the liberty and freedom which define our nation will continue to serve as an exceptional example to all the world’s people.

Let us honor the lives lost in the way we conduct ourselves each and every day. Let us seek common ground with our neighbor and those with whom we disagree, remembering always that there is more which unites us than divides us. Let us restore our civic bonds, and once more find the solidarity and compassion that we, as a nation, are capable of.

May God bless the fallen heroes, their families, and all those who answered the call to serve our nation in her darkest hour, and may god bless the United States of America.