Ten years ago, the Regional Emergency Dispatch (R.E.D.) Center in Northbrook, Illinois installed a section of steel beam from the World Trade Center as a memorial to those killed on 9/11 in New York City, Washington D.C., and in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. The installation outside the R.E.D. also commemorates those first responders killed when the WTC towers collapsed during rescue efforts. For me, this small memorial in rural Illinois unites the constellation of losses that occurred on 9/11 and the way the collective experience of that day impacted every community across our nation.
Americans in every state posted American flags outside businesses and homes. So many people purchased flags that stores sold out of them within days, and fabric stores experienced a run on any red/white/blue materials and ribbons they had. Instinctively, Americans everywhere were drawn to a symbol of national identity and unity in a time of national trauma and grief. Many young Americans representing our diverse communities enlisted in the armed forces as services were deployed to Afghanistan. The trauma and grief continued to ripple through the costs of lives and impact on our veterans over the twenty years that followed. Their service was not in vain and their accomplishments are far greater than most of us will ever know. The witness of their dedication compels us to elect civilian leaders worthy of their trust and who are committed to reasonable civil discourse, responsible global partnerships, and serving the needs of the oppressed for the greater wellbeing, peace, and freedom of all people.
9/11 was more than a moment in history or a day in time – it continues to resonate within a cultural reform movement shaping a new American identity. We continue to be challenged to move from national isolationism to global connection at every level of our society; from teaching the myth of American exceptionalism to teaching the truths about how our nation was built and by whom, removing the cracked varnish of racism to reveal the genuine beauty of strength in the patterned, colored grain beneath; from enriching the privileged few through the bloody contracts of war and capitalism to providing the opportunity for life, liberty, and happiness to all who come to our boarders seeking refuge and freedom from violence.
9/11 will and must remain with us always, with its generational lessons of courage, commitment, enduring love, humility, generosity, interdependence, and human dignity. As a country, we are still rising from the ashes. Every day and in every moment, we are confronted with choices to either fan the smoldering ruins of hatred or to love our neighbor.
The American flag doesn’t belong to the white Christian supremacists who stormed our nation’s capital on January 6, 2021, who even used that flag to beat a Capitol Police officer defending our national leaders. I’m fairly certain domestic terrorists don’t even understand the ideals and history of the diverse peoples the American flag represents. Who we are, what America is, is ours to determine and to be in each and every moment. Today, on this 20th Anniversary of 9/11, I choose to live in ways that best honor the diversity of those who died that day and those who died in the twenty years of war that followed. I will live courageously, thankfully, humbly, generously, authentically, truthfully, helpfully, and never ever forget that the American experiment is my responsibility to preserve and reform as a citizen of this nation.