Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
Do you remember your emotions on that day?
Sorrow. Overwhelming sorrow for the husband who didn’t get to tell his wife goodbye, or the daughter who lost her escort down the wedding aisle. Or the son who would hear only one parent cheer him on at graduation.
Fear. The fear of not knowing if more attacks were coming. The fear of wondering if we would ever be safe again. The fear of what kind of world our children would face as adults.
Then there was the rage. I don’t know about you, but I skipped over anger and went straight to rage. Rage that cowards had just sacrificed innocent lives at the jihad altar. Rage that other parts of the world danced in the streets. Rage that evil had just one-upped good.
A couple of cartoons at the time summed up my feelings.
On Wednesday, the sun rose as always, but I sensed something different as I went about my day.
I felt America at its finest.
Just typing those words sends a tingle through my neck and shoulders and the hair on my arms stands at attention because I remember America, I remember people, coming together. Nothing is more powerful on earth than when people stand in unity.
Watch this and try not to get chills…
If our country’s motto is e pluribus unum—from many, one—why is unity so hard to come by in America these days? Three reasons stand out to me.
1. Unity happens when people sense a greater purpose at work. For that brief moment in time, personal agendas respectfully took a step back, and people came together to heal our country. Life slowed down and the stuff that mattered most came into focus. We hugged our family a little longer. We lingered over picket fences with our neighbors. We packed out our churches to pay homage to the victims and to remind us of our own frailty. I think I even hugged an Auburn fan.
On September 12, the words of Abraham Lincoln rang true, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” I have never felt so good about being an American as I did that day, when all of us united for the common good.
2. Unity is galvanized through displays of character. Charles Spurgeon said, “A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.”
After the attacks, acts of character overwhelmed the acts of evil. Stories flooded the news with the goodness of people on display. A priest passed away from falling debris as he gave a firefighter his last rights. Two office workers died from smoke inhalation as they carried a handicapped employee down sixty-eight flights of stairs to safety. Two gentlemen from Texas drove all day and night to reach ground zero to help anyway they could.
Those acts of character filtered down from New York City to the local level. In the weeks after 911, we didn’t have to question the motives behind our actions. Our character shined brightly and made us whole.
3. Unity cannot occur without sacrifice. From Rudy Guiliani’s tireless efforts to the preschoolers who donated their lemonade stand proceeds to the Red Cross, sacrifice was everywhere. Rescuers worked extra shifts to sift through the rubble. Long lines rolled up their sleeves to donate blood. An army of volunteers marched to New York to offer any kind of assistance.
Fifteen years later, I wonder where that sacrifice has gone. I fear we have retreated to thinking that only our lives matter. Or worse, why sacrifice if we get nothing in return? When sacrifice fades so does unity and factions appear in its place.
In this election season, I don’t see either candidate promoting sacrifice as a means to unify our country. Samuel Adams (the president, not the beer brewer) said: “If ever a time should come when vain and aspiring men (or women) shall possess the seats of government, our country will stand in need of experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.”
To feel the unity of September 12 once again, I believe the government doesn’t hold the answer. Neither do I believe that an act of terrorism is necessary to spur us on. Unity is within us, it always has been. Our founding fathers fanned the flame, it is our responsibility to keep it burning. That will happen when people act with a higher sense of purpose, display acts of character, and sacrifice without concern of reward no government can stop them.
Americans should know. It is how we came to be.