Lessons to Learn from 9/11

I hesitated to write a blog post about this tenth anniversary of the 9/11 events, because it almost seems cliche to do so. I know so may others are writing magazine articles and editorials and blog posts about it, and I have nothing to add. But I just spent a little time watching some clips from the ten-year anniversary coverage. My heart still breaks, watching the speeches and the singing of the national anthem and the moments of silence, and I sat here at my computer, crying while I watched.

Even now, ten years later, it's hard to comprehend the hatred that propelled those planes into those buildings. Some (even some Americans) blame America for the attacks. Some believe that we caused the hatred and invited retribution by our arrogance toward the world's other nations. I reject that argument. Just as I reject absolutely the suggestion that a rape victim invited her attack by her choice of clothing.

There's no doubt that we as a nation do and have done many things wrong. We are human, and like all humans, we make the wrong choices and do things for the wrong reasons. But still, nothing this country has done merited the violence that was done to us that day. Not because we're America, but because we are human, and no human deserves such violence.

Last week I read an article about the ceremonies that were being planned in remembrance of the 9/11 tragedy. Several commentators objected to the often-repeated phrase: “We will never forget.” One writer suggested that we should forget, noting that she never was sure what it was that we're supposed to remember, and that maybe it's time to just move on.

I disagree. This country changed irrevocably that day. And I think we should remember it always, not only out of respect for those who died, but for the lessons we can take away from the events and the aftermath of that horrible day.

The 9/11 attacks taught us in the most vivid of terms that hatred is real. For whatever reasons — our country's political choices or their own religious beliefs — there were in 2001 and are now people who hate America. They hate what we've done, and they hate what we stand for. As individuals, we might disclaim any responsibility for the actions that drew the attention of these haters, but they do not distinguish between the decision-makers in political leadership and the “innocent” citizens just going about their daily lives. The people who planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks knew full well that they were targeting innocent civilians who as individuals had done nothing to harm them or their families. They didn't care.

The truth is, we are all responsible. America is a democratic republic, and those who lead us carry out the policies we allow them to pursue. If we believe that our nation's leaders are making the wrong decisions, then we have the right, the power, and the duty to change the country's direction either by persuading the current political leaders or by replacing them.

We learned a hard lesson ten years ago about the hideous effects of hatred and divisiveness. We also learned that we are not as invulnerable as we once thought. The world changed that day. We cannot unsee the sights we saw or unfeel the fear and grief. We likely never will return to the days when we could greet our visiting loved ones at the airport gate.

I hope that we don't forget that day. But I hope that we all choose to think deeply about what happened, and why, and what can and should be done to make sure it never happens again . . . and how to do that without losing our soul as a nation.