Remember unity, not just tragedy

Earlier this week, our nation honored the 10th anniversary of the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

It is difficult for anyone in the public forum to offer an original thought or remark about what happened that day and while the statements released from President Bush, President Obama and others on Sunday were poignant, and no doubt sincere, they too echoed sentiments that so many others have shared over the past decade.

We all took in the countless television specials, watched the news coverage, and have seen video and images from the events of that day so many times now that we are desensitized to the same sights and pictures that used to stir such emotion within us.

The very phrase “9-11” has become a buzzword in our pop-culture.

But 10 years later, I hope the gravity and the meaning of the terrible events of that day are not lost on us.

Sept. 11, 2001 had every promise of being an ordinary, peaceful Tuesday like any other, but instead it became a day in which nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives in a war they did not choose– the greatest loss of life on American soil in a single day since the Battle of Antietam.

Everyday Americans boarded planes that would never safely meet their destination, and showed up to a workplace that would no longer be standing when night fell that same day.

We all watched with sadness after the first tower was hit, remarking to our friends and family members about this terrible “accident” that had occurred, then came the split second moment when we knew that the world would change as news networks showed a second plane crashing into the iconic buildings on live television.

I was a sixth grade student at Central Elementary School in Simsbury, Conn. on Sept. 11, 2001, living just a short train ride away from Manhattan.

It was a trip my family and I had made many times before, even venturing to the top of the World Trade Center earlier that same year.

Because of our school’s proximity to the site of the attacks, we were put on a lockdown, with no one being allowed to enter or leave the building.

We were told it was because they were spraying the trees outside, only later would we learn that our nation had been attacked.

We’ve learned many lessons from Sept. 11, 2001. The events of that day brought our nation to its knees, but we learned that we are a resilient people.  

After Sept. 11, Americans returned to work and to school, we manufactured, we rebuilt, we raised our families and we lived our lives.

The Democratic process continued and America remained standing.

We learned that while evil is a reality in our world that reared its ugly head on Sept. 11, so too is bravery and courage.

We saw ordinary Americans emerge as heroes on that day, such as Todd Beamer on United Airlines flight 93 who no doubt saved countless lives by, with the help of other brave passengers, diverting the plane from another of the terrorists’ targets.

Most of all, we learned that in trying times, Americans will rally together toward a common cause.

While I would have traded it in a heartbeat for our nation to be spared the tragedy of 9-11, I, like so many others, was encouraged to see such unity across the country in the days and months that followed the attacks.

It is a notion and a mindset that we desperately need to revive in our time,  10 years later.

A decade after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, we enter into another election season that promises heated words and intense debate.

The nation stands sharply divided along party lines.

Issues such as the vote to raise the debt ceiling, and locally, a bill to end collective bargaining for teachers’ unions, have elicited passionate discussion but also some disappointing rhetoric and displays from leaders of both parties than only serve to cheapen our public discourse.

Additionally, some in our own state have, sadly, directed their anger over the events of Sept. 11 toward the Islamic community as a whole, and would seek to stop a Muslim congregation in Murfreesboro from constructing a new facility in which to worship.  

10 years after 9-11, we will honor this historic day by being intentional to remember what that day was like for each of us, and by sharing our stories with a new generation of young people who were never alive to experience it.

But perhaps the best way we can commemorate Sept. 11, 2001 is to reach back and redeem that sense of shared purpose and camaraderie as American citizens we experienced then, and claim it once more in 2011.

We will ensure that it doesn’t take another national disaster to cause us to focus more on our commonalities than our differences.

President Obama reminded us in his remarks on Sunday that “Nothing can break the will of a truly United States of a America.” The question is– are we?