September 11, 2023 marks the 22nd anniversary of a national tragedy, now grown dim with the distance of time and memory. Those of us old enough to have experienced the shock of the horrific events of that day 22 years ago still remember where we were and what we were doing as we heard the news on that September day. To all of us September 11, 2001 still stands as a monument to the grit and resilience of an American people who refused to lie down in the face of such collective challenge.
Many of our students and even some of our employees have no recollection of the trauma of that day or of the memories that linger as early September arrives. For many, it is now a mere history lesson rather than an important historical moment when a nation sat stunned, huddled by our radios or in front of television screens, listening to news of the unimaginable attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. 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.
While the smoke-filled images of toppled buildings at the World Trade Center and the horror of a human toll that reached 3,000 have faded into memory, those of us who experienced it understood with a jolt that our country is not immune to national catastrophes. Each historical moment in time will periodically be replaced by new challenges—like a pandemic—that call upon and strain our reserves of national and personal strength.
Senator Cardin recently wrote in his September 11, 2023 Message: “With each passing year, there are fewer Americans who will never forget and more Americans who will never remember.” For me, remembering September 11, 2001 on September 11, 2023 calls up a spirit that links the past with the present. Recalling catastrophe jogs me into remembering what is really important to our daily lives:
- Recognizing 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;
- Continuing to learn even a small lesson about taking our daily troubles and our individual concerns just a little less seriously;
- Counting 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 which seems to dominate the news media, the real measure of America in the days that followed September 11, 2001 was one of courage, grit and recommitment. Although the pandemic has sapped some of that strength from each of us, we have, once again, found 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. Those noble virtues represent who we really are; we just need an occasional reminder to remember how to rediscover—and then apply—them.