I hope that in the near future, when we look back at September 11th, 2001, we will remember not only the tragedy and courage of the day itself, but also our response to the events.
To me, that’s what I remember most about September 11th, 2001: that in grief, we were united - in the best sense of the word - despite its roots in sadness. We had watched 2977 innocent people murdered live on national television, replayed over and over again until it made us sick, and yet in our confusion we defaulted to comforting and protecting each other. We were all Americans, all attacked, all dealing with the tragedy together.
But days later, our national demeanor changed, along with our national discourse. As a nation we became fearful, and full of anger. We began to lash out externally and internally, choosing to respond to hatred with more hatred. We set upon our own with an appetite for xenophobia that bordered on ravenous. In doing so, we lost much.
We are a country born of immigrants, but immigrants became the enemy. We are a country whose culture is formed and shaped in a melting pot, but we gazed upon certain members of our own with explicit suspicion. We are a country whose core values are of religious freedom - values so important that they were writ at the cost of blood - and yet we cast them aside without hesitation to scorn, threaten, and even assault those who “dared” to believe differently.
What happened 11 years ago was a tragedy in the truest sense of the word, but we only compounded the tragedy with our response. In the days after September 11th, 2001, we showed the best of ourselves as a nation, but followed it with the worst. A decade later, we’re still dealing with the effects. Children barely young enough to remember the event itself are now old enough to discriminate because of it. They’ve been taught by eleven years’ worth of base emotion to fear and hate their fellow citizens, and what they’ve witnessed during their formative years will create a lifetime’s worth of internal and external conflict. We’re only now beginning to repair the damage but it may take an entire generation to get us back on track.
We can be better - not just in the sense of wounds healing, but in all aspects of the word. We can learn all the lessons there are to learn from a tragedy and from our response. We can heal and make ourselves stronger at the break. We can remember that when we chose to make our hearts so vulnerable in the first place, it was because the alternative wasn’t who we wanted to be as a people. And one day I hope that when we look back on this event in years to come, we’ll be able to say that our insanity was temporary, and that we’re better now. Because we can be; we can be so much better.
I’ve seen it in us.