Remembering the lessons of 9/11

Published 1:35 am Saturday, September 12, 2009

It is funny how much can change in eight years. Think about it.

Eight years ago today we were scared, uncertain, shocked. For maybe the first time in our nation’s history, we were no longer the country that thought it was the center point of the world, but had actually – in the worst possible way – become just that.

Petty differences seemed, well, petty. Things that were legitimate points of contention on Sept. 10 suddenly seemed childish and insignificant on Sept. 12.

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There was no baseball. There was no football. The stock market shut down. Everything in our section of this little planet just stopped.

And we paused with it. We paused to watch, to listen, to wonder, to love. We came to appreciate archaic words that had long lost their distinct attributes.

In the wake of the greatest catastrophe on the U.S. mainland, we all became patriots. We watched the events in New York City unfold together. We were riveted by the aftermath together. And, much to our chagrin, “Ground Zero” became a part of all our vocabularies.

From nine to 90, I believe we all knew that this would be a day that we would forever remember. It was one of those rare moments when it seems we are given a front row seat outside of time to watch our world and our part in it unfold in a technicolor blur.

While it was beyond our conscious understanding at the time, collectively, we knew this would be one of those events that redirected the course of our nation.

It is at the top of a very short list that includes a pair of presidential assassinations and the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor.

But what now? Now, only eight years later, it seems all the lessons we thought ourselves to have gleaned from the events of 9/11 have faded. And those archaic words have returned to their resting places within the darkened, cobweb infested portions of our minds.

Not even a tragedy such as Hurricane Katrina a few years later could serve as punctuation enough to make us remember just how badly we need one another and just how unimportant so many of our contentious differences are.

Now our dialogue is filled with phrases like “troop withdrawal” and the “War on Terror” and “healthcare reform.”

We are less than a year into the presidential term of a man who successfully made the rhetoric of hope and change part of our daily vocabulary. But, on Sept. 12, 2009, his approval rating seems to indicate that even the hopeful are growing tired of waiting for change.

The most cruel irony of it all lies in one, simple truth. Our greatest opportunity to find hope and truly implement change came in the aftermath of the most devastating, fearful time in our nation’s history.

One man – even if he holds the highest office in the free world – cannot bring about such a broad, sweeping change. He cannot give hope to a nation that has chosen to be helpless.

It took a major catastrophe for us to collectively realize the important things in life. Now, just eight years later, we have returned to relying upon the government and the men who run it to make our society a better place to live. But the absolute, honest truth is that each of us, individually, has the power to improve the world around us. And should we ever decide to use it, we will finally have the change for which we all hope.