What remembering 9/11 really means
On a cloudless, beautiful September morning 16 year ago, the world changed forever. Yesterday, a day eerily similar in regards to the blue and green calmness of the environment and the perfectly tepid morning air, Warwick remembered the catalyst for that change with honor, dignity and respect.
Nothing can bring back the thousands of innocents that perished needlessly and mercilessly due to the poison of extremism. Nothing can prevent the illness and sicknesses than many more thousands now suffer from as a result of breathing in the toxic contaminants contained within the ensuing cloud of ash and debris that choked the streets of downtown New York as if a volcano had erupted in Times Square.
Nothing can bring us back to the time of advancing, optimistic innocence that we felt in the 90s – when Google was just an unpopular search engine on the exciting “fad” known as the World Wide Web. Nothing can restore the childlike naiveté felt by Americans who had never witnessed something so traumatic happen in front of them, on television or right outside their window.
We are 16 years into a new age. An age where terrorism is reported on a seemingly weekly basis across the world and where we are unable to feel wholly “safe” no matter where we go – whether it’s on a flight, on a bus, at a crowded stadium or just out to a movie premiere – because we know too much, because we unfortunately know how even the most calm day can turn into a scene from hell in the blink of an eye.
We, as a blend of millions of people with different perspectives, hopes, challenges and beliefs, can’t change any of these dried realities. All we can do is mourn. And remember. And vow to never forget such horror so that we can stand firm in the belief that, even though we may divide along ideological lines, we will stand together in the face of true adversity, just as we did in 2001.
As Kasim Yarn, director of the Rhode Island Office of Veterans Affairs, pointed out Monday at a CCRI 9/11 observance, Rhode Island has a population about one ninth that of New York City. A population so small must be united to survive and thrive, he said. We have to work together if we want to succeed.
It seems recently that the topic of division is brought up more often than unity. For certain, the polarization of extreme beliefs is a cause for concern and needs to be monitored. But as we simultaneously see acts of deplorability, we see acts of extreme charity and kindness. People volunteering to go help flood victims, and people donating millions towards relief efforts.
Remembering the terror felt by all of America on September 11th should be secondary to remembering the heroism that sprouted from that terror – from firefighters, police and National Guard personnel to civilians who put their own safety second to help a complete stranger. For a time, we were a literal embodiment of the United States of America.
To remember 9/11 isn’t just to remember the moment that we were victimized by forces of evil, but also the moments that we embraced our ability to work together, our willingness to sacrifice for one another without a thought, our natural desire to forget our differences and celebrate our human alikeness. To remember 9/11 is to remember the qualities of a society that actually made, and make, America great.
Those qualities will persist and grow, and cannot be destroyed by terror or hate.