If you were an adult on September 11, 2001, chances are good that you remember exactly where you were that morning. You remember the sweet blue of the sky wherever you were in the country when you knew that in New York City and Washington D.C. and a field in Pennsylvania, the skies were full of ash and smoke, and the hearts were full of pain. We who lived it share that pain today, 19 years later, and we remember those who died and those who survived. All of us, those who remember where we were, carry a little bit of that morning with us each and every day moving forward.
In 2020, we’re in a weird place when it comes to Patriot Day, as 9/11 has been branded. It is still raw enough that many of us mourn still, especially those who were there or who lost loved ones. However, in the middle of all that is happening in America this year, between a global pandemic, racial justice protests, and mounting rioting around the country, it’s hard to focus on such a painful memory. 2020 makes us want to forget because there is enough happening to us in the present.
Even the National September 11 Memorial & Museum announced in August that they would not hold the “Tribute in Light” that has become a tradition in New York, shooting twin beams of light into the night sky from the locations of the two World Trade Center towers that fell that day. Days later, they walked that decision back, saying that the decision was made due to coronavirus concerns for the crews creating the light show, but that those concerns had been addressed by health authorities. The show will go on.
This is not the time to forgo our solemn celebrations of this event. We promised the first responders, the families and the friends of the 2,977 Americans who died in the terrorist attacks that day, that we would “never forget.” We stood strong as a united people the year following that awful day and showed our deep gratitude to all police and firefighters and military, every chance we could.
However, over 30 percent of Texans were born since September 11, 2001. They don’t remember it for themselves, and they haven’t heard the stories very often. We who experienced it find it difficult to talk about. And now, we are living through a time that seems so much more immediately relevant than something that happened almost two decades ago.
2020 is a very different time. There are deep divisions among our people; there are age-old festered wounds that have been exposed; there is a different type of pain that has resulted in questions about patriotism and where that fits in an egalitarian society. These are the questions for a democratic people to wrestle with, and sometimes a republic requires hard scrutiny. However, simply because we question and wrestle with the answers and each other doesn’t mean that we leave our history behind.
September 11th, 9/11, or Patriot Day—whatever you want to call it, we as Americans need it. We need that reminder, that common bond of united suffering, to remind us that we are one people. We are Americans. Even those who don’t remember it for themselves, it is still their shared history.
Let’s not wait until the next tragedy to remember, that more unites us than divides us. Look to your neighbor, to your coworker, to your family member, and make a conscious effort to look more for the good than the bad. Give grace to those who need it, and make sure you extend that to yourself as well.
We are Americans. And like the Spanish Flu of 1918, like World War II in the 1940s, like the Cold War in the 20th century, we will overcome and triumph. It will take all of us, just like it did then. And the ghostly outlines of the Twin Towers will lead us in that direction, as long as we look for them, and we remember.
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