It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? In some ways, it feels like a million years ago, and in others, it’s still as fresh as yesterday. That’s true of any trauma, I think—of any tragedy or loss or life-altering circumstance. We talk about where we were, what we were doing when we first heard the news that a plane had hit the Towers, and we hear ourselves say, “Was it really that long ago? I can still see it so vividly.”
I’ve heard that those in the City remember more than live media footage—they recall the thud of bodies on pavement as men and women jumped to their deaths to escape the inferno or the cloud of ash that covered everything like a thick and incurable disease, or the smell—the smell of which everyone seems to agree there are no words.
Whether we were in our living rooms watching live footage as the second plane hit the South Tower, whether we were charging up thirty flights of stairs before realizing the South Tower had collapsed and the North Tower would be next, whether we boated countless people, we’ll never meet again off the island to safety, whether we enlisted, whether we deployed, whether we worked in Counter Terrorism, whether we went to our local blood banks and gave freely, whether we knew anyone in the towers or the Pentagon or Shanksville—our memories of that day are unique to us because each one of us is living a unique story. But our memories are tiny fragments of a larger picture—a picture of what America can look like, what America should look like, and what America—I believe—wants to look like.
See, we innately knew that day that freedom was under attack and that one single strand of thread was strong enough to bind us together despite our creed or skin color or political party or sexuality or gender.
Like many Americans, I attended a prayer vigil locally that evening where members of many different denominations were represented. I remember thinking, “Why does it take a tragedy to bring us together?” I didn’t know the answer, but I knew without a doubt—it had. We were united. We stood as a collective body, praying for peace and comfort and protection and forgiveness and God’s presence. What I experienced in that church building was only a glimpse of what was happening in our nation.
Today, our nation is grossly divided. There is an almost unbelievable amount of hatred and vitriol toward fellow human beings— toward fellow Americans. It’s destroying us— it’s destroying freedom— like a brittle bone losing calcium growing ever weaker and more porous. And it’s easy to despair. It’s easy to shake our heads in fear and frustration and cry out, “What’s wrong with us?”
But if we’ve seen anything in the last couple of weeks, it’s that the spirit of unity and love among Americans is still vibrant and strong. It is still that strand of thread, weaving in and out among us, drawing us closer to one another and stronger as a result. I can’t help but think this week, as we remember the tragic loss in America sixteen years ago, that every time one of us reaches for our neighbor, every time someone pulls another to safety, every time someone gets on a bus and devotes his or her time and energy to recovery and cleanup, every time someone gives food or clothing or money or blood— to me, it feels like that moment when the flag was raised from the rubble at Ground Zero. It’s our answer to a destructive ideology that still wishes to undermine the American spirit. It’s our resolve to ensure freedom for future generations. It’s our response to hatred anywhere, even in our midst.
This is who we are.
This is the spirit of America.
This is what “Let Freedom Ring” sounds like. It is true and clear and resonant, and It echoes in our hearts and in the voices of those around us.
And it fills me with great hope that maybe, just maybe… the best is yet ahead of us. It breaks upon us, each day, with glorious light and warmth and the reminder that this day—each day—is a gift, and we can either grow or squander the spirit of love for our fellow man.