Like millions of other people on September 11, 2001, I sat transfixed to the TV screen watching and re-watching images I simply couldn’t believe were real. It all felt so chaotic, so horrific, the truth was I didn’t want them to be real.
But they were. And as the fiery clouds of smoke continued to engulf and consume all in its path, little did I or the millions of other people watching realize to what extent these unfolding events would change us as Americans forever.
Looking back fifteen years ago, we were a different country. We seemed to stand apart from the rest of the world in the fact that we remained untouched by foreign invasion. Suicide bombers, sniper attacks did not encroach upon our day-to-day lives. And because of that we took certain truths for granted. And we shouldn’t have.
It’s a strange seat to suddenly find yourself vulnerable. We were unprepared for what happened that day, and as much as I’d like to think we’re now smarter, more secure, I can’t help but ask: Are we?
Three thousand people perished that day. Three thousand brave men and women who fought to save their lives and the lives of others ended in a wreckage of glass and steel right before our eyes.
As a New Yorker and a fellow participant in this bowl of humanity, I felt what we all feel when something this crazy and senseless happens. It drives us to question, to cry, to lay flowers, to sing mournful songs, to reach out to those bereaving families. Fifteen years ago, I didn’t do those things. I didn’t pay tribute to those fallen angels the way I wished I had. So when I found myself in Manhattan today, I made sure Ground Zero was on my things to do list.
The outside memorial of two enormous waterfalls set within the original footprints of the Twin Towers is a magnificent structure and quite peaceful as you stroll around and gaze at all the names etched in.
The inside museum tells a different story. It offers us something more. A glimpse behind the wall of smiling faces telling us this one loved to play golf. This one coached Little League. This one just got married. This one just had a baby. So many names, so many faces, I kept thinking as I moved from exhibit to exhibit until I finally came to the end. Thoroughly drained and profoundly touched.
History teaches us that the events of the past shape our future. It begs us to not forget. To not wipe clean the memories. It tells us to use all that we know to honor our cultural differences and rectify those injustices in this great story of human existence. It provokes us to think. To act. To develop a better lens in which we see the world and keep us safe. It gives us meaning. It provides opportunity to build character and integrity in the lives of our children. And it teaches us the most important lesson of all … hope. For without that, there’s nothing.