Honoring the day and the people working to keep us safe.
Although my ritual has changed over the years, the day has never lost its significance to me, even as it has loosened its grip on the psyche of this nation.
When I was serving in government, I would go to church on the morning of 9/11, listen to a chime ring at the precise time the first plane hit the first tower, light a single candle to remember those who gave their lives, shed more than a single tear, compose myself, and go to work with a renewed sense of purpose.
About 10 years ago, I stopped going to church services and started attending public commemorations. Although the tears still flowed, I no longer attended to renew my sense of purpose in public service, having resigned my position in 2004. Instead, I went to make sure that the public did not forget that terrible day or the people still working to keep us safe.
Now fourteen years after the attacks, these public ceremonies still take place, but they are no longer ubiquitous. As a country, we are moving on. And I am moving on as well. Rather than seek out a public ceremony, I will retreat to my den and listen to “Into the Fire” by Bruce Springsteen and “Peace on Earth” by U2. I will close my eyes for a moment, remember that horrible day, and then grab the car keys and take my children to school.
I will remind my children that the U.S. was attacked by evil people on September 11th, and that there are still evil people in the world who mean to do us harm. I will tell them that they do not need to live in fear because we have soldiers, spies, and police working very hard every day to keep us safe.
This is truthful and reassuring, but it also seems facile. It’s the “schoolhouse rock” version of remembering 9/11. My kids are old enough to hear the harder truths. They need to hear them. We all do. So I will tell my children why we must not let 9/11 slip from our country’s consciousness as the years go by: (1) it is an inspiring and humbling lesson in duty and heroism; (2) it teaches us that our government is not perfect – we made mistakes before the attacks and we have made many since; and (3) it is a stark reminder that our fortunes as a nation depend on engaged citizens and dedicated and deliberative public officials.
When I get home, I will write my former colleagues and thank them for their service to country and their efforts to keep us safe. Then I will write my Representative and Senators. I will encourage them to view the West’s humanitarian response to the migrant crisis in Europe as an opportunity to convincingly rebut IS and al Qaeda propaganda that the West is at war with Islam. To do this will be to honor the day.