Today we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 national tragedy.  Although the distance of time and memory has dimmed the shock of that event, throughout this past week commentaries, reflections and images of that infamous day have quietly informed this week’s news stories, jogging memories we might prefer to forget.

On September 11, 2001 many of us sat stunned, huddled by our radios or in front of television screens, listening to news of the unimaginable. The Pentagon and World Trade Center in New York City had been attacked and a fourth airplane—headed perhaps for the White House or a nuclear power plant—crashed in a Pennsylvania field.  On that day—and the days that followed—we truly believed that nothing in our lifetimes would ever equal this disruption to our world…and we would never forget what happened on that day.

Now 20 years later, we continue to absorb the shock of other unimaginable national disasters, a Coronavirus pandemic of course, but also such other destabilizing experiences as a contested presidential election and an assault on the Capitol building. Crises such as these wind back through the past two decades. We may now have a better understanding that national catastrophes become historical moments in time, each to be periodically replaced by new challenges that call upon and strain our reserves of national and personal strength.

However, while we struggle still to comprehend the impact of these national events on our lives in 2021, we should not lose sight of the collective shock, trauma and outrage we Americans felt on September 11, 2001. That was a day intended to shame our country and bring it to its knees.  Instead, it has become a day to celebrate the indomitable American spirit, a day of heroism of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  And as we continue to learn to live with the virus and a country rife with political divisiveness, we must call on that indomitability once again.

As we pause to remember 9/11/01 on 9/11/21, let us do so in a spirit that links the past with the present. To rise above today’s challenge of emerging from a world-wide pandemic and restoring civility to national conversations, we need the same personal and collective resources that we dug down deep to find in ourselves in 2001.  Therefore, I invite you to participate in CCBC’s collective remembrance of 9/11 in any of the following ways:

  1. Share a moment of silence at noon or at the specific times noted in this link:
  2. Participate in National Day of Service and Remembrance activities sponsored on an ongoing basis by the Office of Student Life.
  3. Be just a bit more thoughtful or kind to family, friends, and colleagues. In the days that followed 9/11, we—who were not at Ground Zero—were all just a little nicer, a little more patient, a little more compassionate with each other. We gave blood, raised money, collected food…but even more than that…on a very human level, we opened doors for people we didn’t know; we let them get ahead of us in line; we smiled more and swore less; we cared about other people, grew closer to our families, and in general, were just a little softer around the edges, very aware for a while of the fragility of life.

As we slowly emerge from living through 18 months of a pandemic, many of us are still angry, fearful, and resentful, living lives that have been ravaged by COVID for the past two years. To help us regain some balance I offer the balm to be found in answering three simple questions:

  • Do we recognize the importance of cherishing our families and our friends; of hugging our children; of saying thank you and I love you and really meaning it;
  • Do we continue to learn even a small lesson about taking our daily troubles and our individual concerns just a little less seriously;
  • Do we count ourselves blessed to be living in America where national tragedy of significant scope rarely occurs, but when it does, it has yet to fail to evoke from us the best of what it means to be an American.

Rather than the divisive political discourse raging in our country, it is the courage, the grit, and the commitment of Americans all across our nation that was the real measure of America in the days that followed September 11, 2001.  The pandemic, surrounded by a cacophony of discordant noise from news feeds, social media, television screens, and streaming devices, has sapped some of that strength from us. To continue to hold our heads high, we must find a way to recapture that combination of courage, grit, and commitment…and—while we are at it—civility. These qualities have indeed been the real measure of America at times when our country has been most challenged in the past. I believe those noble virtues still represent who we really are; we just have to remember how to rediscover—and then apply—them.