A decade ago, we mentioned on this page that even after 10 years it was still hard to view the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11 without grief, mourning, anger ... or even a sense of stunned reallocation of priorities and perception. It still rings true 20 years later — the tragedy that claimed nearly 3,000 lives has changed us, in some ways for the better. Americans are wiser, sadder, more wary and less inclined to think of our country as invulnerable on our own soil.
We are also more inclined to think of ourselves as “community,” especially in moments of reflection such as today’s 20-year anniversary of that horrific day.
We’re still struggling through finding a balance between personal liberties and our government’s need to protect its citizens, as borders became barriers and airport screening measures became more and more intrusive.
A worldwide pandemic hasn’t made that struggle any easier. The balance is tenuous, but the struggle continues to protect, as well as preserve, our way of life.
What we wish would also continue, even after the 9/11 ceremonies are all over, is a renewed sense that we are one nation, one people, with a shared purpose. That happened for a moment, maybe longer, in the days and weeks following the attacks. But in the intervening two decades, cynicism is a natural and reasonable reaction to the toll terrorism took that day.
Today, our country is more divided than any time in recent memory. Even the global COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 650,000 Americans and 4.6 million people worldwide is a point of contention in this country.
How can we recapture hope and a sense of community?
As we stated 10 years ago, that could happen in big and small ways — in families, neighborhoods, towns and cities, counties, states — and finally as a nation.
This weekend, we commemorate our shared suffering over the losses that day in ceremonies across our communities. Flags flown, candles lit, speeches made, patriotic music played — and, in some places, prayers said.
Some of the most touching remembrances are from those who suffered loss of loved ones — some victims of the attack, some, those who tried to save them. One father, speaking on public radio, lost two sons, ages 34 and 36, who were a New York City fireman and a policeman by profession. He said the last words shared between him and his sons were, “I love you.”
In the days following the attack in 2001, you may remember a local ceremony, where the entire community came together. You may remember a hug shared with a casual acquaintance in the local supermarket — someone who was closer to you in those days, because we needed each other more. It’s like the astronauts say, when looking back at Earth through space: That blue, swirling ball beneath you is a single planet — a unity that almost defies description. How could we not share love and a common purpose? There are those who would harm us, but, beyond the measures we take to stop that, let’s, as individuals, reach out to each other like we did 10 years ago. Recapture that sense of community, whether at home or at one of the ceremonies held in your hometown.