As I began to write this, they were still reading the names of the fallen on September 11 twenty years ago today. Tears welled in my eyes as I heard relatives of victims recite those names and then speak lovingly of their family members who so tragically perished.
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As those names were read and streamed across the bottom of the screen, I was struck at how they represented all that is good about America. Moms, dads, brothers, sisters, police officers, firefighters of every nationality died that day -- some simply going about their daily jobs in the twin towers, others called to the scene to rescue and serve.
But their names told us that this tragedy played no favorites. Irish. Italian. Hispanic. Asian. Those of Middle Eastern descent. Christians. Jews. Hindu. And Muslim. And, no doubt more. It brought to mind the divisive battles over immigration and Donald Trump's Muslim travel ban of 2017. And the hypocrisy they represent.
And while those names were read and the readers, including a little girl and a boy of 11 or 12 whose voice had yet to change, paid tribute to their own family members who died, audience members stood in silence, many tearfully, while others traced their loved ones' names from the memorial that had been built in their honor. Violins and flutes played softly. And at the moments the twin towers fell and Flight 93 was crashed into a field in Shanksville, PA by heroic passengers to prevent it from wiping out the Capitol or the White House, bells tolled and the audience fell silent.
In Shanksville, former President George W. Bush spoke in tribute to those passengers of that aircraft that had been commandeered by terrorists. "These Americans were brave, strong, and united in ways that shocked the terrorists -- but should not surprise any of us. This is the nation we know. And whenever we need hope and inspiration, we can look to the skies and remember," he said.
It was all beautiful and inspiring. And it seemed at that time that the divisiveness that has gripped our nation these past many years was forgotten. These were not conservatives or liberals that were gathered there. These were not Republicans or Democrats. They were not Trump true believers or Joe Biden supporters. These were Americans, survivors of a tragedy that has forever changed our country.
As I sat down to write this essay and flipped through my emails, I came across an article in TIME by Elizabeth Miller, a Rule of Law Fellow for September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. She wrote that she was just six on Sept. 11, 2001 when her father, firefighter Douglas C. Miller, perished.
"The world I know and remember is the one born after 9/11," Miller wrote. "And, as long as I have lived in that world, I have been ashamed to see hate, fear and ignorance grow in the immediate aftermath of the attacks and unfortunately continue into today. As the injustice continues, I feel my wounds are still raw. I did not want to participate in that cruelty then, and I do not now."
Tragically, that is the case. Hate, fear and ignorance do continue to dwell within our society, whipped by those who would divide us for their own political ends, or for greed, or self-aggrandizement, or their own intransigent view of what is patriotic and what is not.
Discussing whatever problem that we are currently confronting, President Biden likes to say, "We can do this. We are the UNITED States of America."
Today, we are confronting a deadly pandemic that has claimed more than 650,000 lives since it began -- far more than those 3,000 lost September 11, 2001. The politicians try to place blame. The China Virus. The Wuhan Flu. The Kungfoo Flu. We fight over masks and whether or not we will be vaccinated. Some take to the streets demanding freedom of choice. And now our president has issued orders for vaccination and mask mandates at work, at school, on airplanes, and in just about every aspect of daily life.
He says he was forced to do so because there are so many vaccination deniers, including some public officials and politicians, whom, he says, jeopardize the health of the many by protecting the rights of the few.
Those battles undoubtedly will continue, as will the racial divides that persist, along with the many divisions that exist in so many other areas of our daily lives.
Will we ever be the UNITED States of America?
Will it take another catastrophe like 9/11 to bring us to that point? Hopefully not. But somehow, the leaders of our country must stop their divisive actions aimed at building and protecting their own political power and come together for the benefit of us all.
Is that too much to ask?
George Bush says "Look to the skies" for inspiration. That's fine. But, what our leaders really need to do is simply look around, understand that people are hurting, and do the hard work necessary to bring America together regardless of the cost.
They must look within themselves and find the strength to do what is right..