I was in first grade on September 11th, 2001. It’s one of the few days of that year I remember with any detail, and even then my memory is kind of spotty. I remember seeing images of the two towers—what remained of them, anyway—on the news and thinking that whatever had happened was going to be a big deal. I knew it wasn’t a movie. I knew that it wasn’t a temporary thing. I knew that something unforgivable and unforgettable had happened.
More than that day, I remember the commemorative activities we did in the years that followed. In second grade, we spent the morning making key chains with the letters VA, PA and NY on them. My eighth grade history teachers had a poster on his wall with the names of every victim of the attack on the towers, and I spent a lot of my time in the class trying to read them all. Even now, 13 years later, most of us spend the day swapping stories of where we were when we first heard of the tragedy.
This is not a day of shame. We didn’t do anything wrong. This is a day of grief, memorial, and patriotism.
This day has been christened “Patriot Day” since 2002 (it’s a legitimate holiday), and I can’t think of a more fitting name. True, this day is more commonly called 9/11 or September 11th, but I think that the two names have different connotations. References to the date itself inspire fear and pain. It brings back the terror that every man, woman, and child felt in the time following the attacks. It was a time of uncertainty and doubt, and it was one of the worst, if not the worst experience that the American people have collectively experienced.
But as sick as it sounds, one good thing came out of the September 11th attacks: Americans all across this land finally agreed on something. We all got together and wanted—in one form another—to beat the living hell out of whoever did this to our people and our sense of security. We grieved together. We stood by one another. We didn’t identify as Republican or Democrat, we identified as a mass of 300 million people that had been wronged in the worst way imaginable. It’s a shame that that feeling requires a national tragedy, but that’s another rant for another day.
I do not personally know anyone involved in the attacks. I have friends who lost relatives or know eyewitnesses, but that’s as far as my experience goes. This day means something different for them, something that I can’t speak to because I’m simply not in the position to. It’s not something I have any right pretending to understand.
I do know a lot of people that have chosen to serve—military or police/fire/EMS—because of 9/11. This event was powerful enough to get them to change the course of their lives. Thank you, guys, for taking action instead of wishing that something would change in this world.
The best way to honor the fallen, both of the body and the spirit, is to remember them. Treat this day as something sacred. Mourn with respect and grace.
The phrase “never forget” is associated with a lot of world tragedies, but to Americans it hits home in the second week of September. Those words don’t refer to the physical buildings that we lost. It means that we can’t forget what this day meant to entire generations of Americans—and never forget the unity that we felt in the days after. Never forget what how the victims died. Never forget that it is our job to defend the country we love.