Lessons to remember: How we felt on September 11, 2001


Somehow, it’s been eight years today since terrorists attacked the United  States in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pa.

On that perfectly gorgeous late summer day on Sept.  11, 2001, we watched as the World Trade Center’s twin towers were hit and ultimately toppled by hijacked commercial jetliners filled with innocent people.  We watched as a third hijacked jetliner was deliberately crashed into the Pentagon.  And we learned of a fourth hijacked jet that was heading toward another target in D.C. when its passengers refused to succumb to their hijackers and fought back on the doomed plane. As the passengers tried to overtake the hijackers, the hijackers corkscrewed the plane into the ground outside Shanksville, Pa., never reaching their target.

It was an unreal day in the history of our nation, filled with tragedy, horror and fear.

New York's World Trade Center rubble after Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks

The rubble of New York's World Trade Center towers following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/Terraxplorer

At the same time, it was one of our best days — as we pulled together as a nation, not as New Yorkers, Texans, Pennsylvanians and the rest — but as Americans all.  Through our tears and sorrow, we pulled together and helped one another, in our towns, in our cities, across our state borders, to send help, supplies and volunteers to New York and D.C., and to find common ground in our communities, despite our past differences.

Across the United States, we flew American flags outside our homes.  We went outside and we talked to our neighbors. We hugged our children and loved ones more often.  We were friendlier to strangers and more civil to one another.  We were truly one as a nation.

Many people said that the terrorists thought they would tear our nation apart by conducting the devastating attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but instead learned that their attacks brought us together more than any political speeches or civics program could have ever accomplished.  Truer words were never spoken.

But as America began wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of fighting terrorism and ridding Iraq of dictator Saddam Hussein, those feelings of togetherness and national unity began to fray and fade.  The deaths of thousands of U.S. and allied soldiers will do that, and continues to do that.

Today, as we remember the deaths of the more than 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and the almost 5,000 American soldiers who have died so far fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s a good time to reflect on what has happened to us since our modern day of infamy in 2001.

Instead of togetherness as a nation, we are again mired in political and civil bickering on everything from the economy to healthcare to both wars.

It’s been tiring. It’s been draining. And it’s not helping us.

It’s time to honor all the victims of Sept. 11 again by remembering how we all were as a nation in the days and weeks and months after the attacks.  It’s time to return that sense of civility, respect, togetherness and strength that we all found together after the towers fell, after the Pentagon was hit, after the heroes of United Airlines Flight 93 forced their hijackers to crash their plane into a Pennsylvania field.

It’s time to remember those feelings and work to bring them back, for our nation, for our world, for each other.

We need that same civility and respect for each other again as we face the challenges that are before us as a nation, from tackling health care to getting our economy back on track, to ending the wars that our nation finds itself involved in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We owe that kind of effort to each other, to our nation and to all who taught us on that day what it truly felt like to be Americans again.  It was a lesson we can truly repay if we try.