What I believe is that the events of 9/11 changed us, but not enough.
It is with all due respect that I acknowledge that 9/11 profoundly and eternally changed thousands of individual lives. Friends and family members of the nearly three thousand people who died in the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, and in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The thousands of soldiers who have given their lives in our nation's war efforts since 9/11, and all those who knew and loved them. And a relatively small number of individuals who were so completely stirred by the terrorist attacks that they made fundamental changes to their own daily lives, better aligning them with their most deeply held values and convictions, religious or otherwise. There are no doubt tens or even hundreds of thousands of individuals for whom 9/11 was a genuinely life-altering event. But what about the rest of us? What about our nation as a whole?
Americans have all endured the easily identifiable and somewhat superficial impacts of 9/11. Airport pat downs and other minor travel inconveniences. Bag checks and metal detectors at concerts and sporting events. New rules and protocols imposed on us almost everywhere we choose to gather by the thousands.
And Americans all carry the burden of the more costly and complex consequences of 9/11 on our collective world. Job loss, national debt, and economic distress. A more fragile national psyche that must live with increased terror alert levels, breaking news, and fear of...fear.
Nineteen men and four airplanes. It seems like they changed an entire world of things. In truth, things have changed enough, but collectively, as a nation and a people, America has not. Since 9/11:
- We lost confidence, but gained no humility.
- We remembered sacrifice, but failed to honor it through our daily actions.
- We gained perspective, but made choices that diverged from our core priorities.
- We learned to appreciate humanity, but did not foster human kindness.
- We shared moments of brotherhood, but found no long-term unity.
At heart, America is still a nation composed of respectful and caring individuals, most of us generous souls who will care for a neighbor during his time of greatest need. But we no longer care for the man we just met (as our greatest religious and ethical traditions would have us do), and unfortunately, we have become a nation of strangers. On that clear September day, we reveled in the feeling of community that so quickly replaced our more common notions of distrust and selfishness. For a moment, we bonded as a nation. But in the days since then, and truthfully, in most of the days before, we failed miserably to come together.
On this tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, let us remember that the terrorist attacks, grisly and horrifying as they were, offer us an opportunity. As a nation and as people, what we have is the chance not only to memorialize all that we have lost, but to re-gain it.
- We have a real opportunity to focus less on ourselves, and instead pursue the greater good with our daily words, actions, and votes.
- We have a real opportunity to practice random acts of kindness with those we know, and even more with those we don't know - family, friend, neighbor, citizen, human.
- We have a real opportunity to keep an open mind, assume positive intention, and find it in our hearts to offer forgiveness.
- We have a real opportunity to let our hearts swell and be charitable in our thoughts, words, and deeds - we can choose to go beyond our smallest selves and be bigger than we have to be.
When we have done all this, then we will have changed, enough.