I wasn’t planning on posting anything today, partly because other people have more important stories to share, and partly because I was so young when it happened. But as I walked around the memorial this morning, my emotions compelled me to write.
As a 5 year old, you don’t remember much, but I remember seeing the plane fly into the building on TV. I still see the smoke. I don’t remember asking my mother what happened or what her answer was. But I remember seeing it, and then being young enough to go into another room and live the rest of the day in total innocence.
When I walked by One World Trade Center today, I couldn’t help but grimmace as a young group of teens walked by discussing what clothes they were going to buy. At first I was put off by the indelicate remark, but hearing their preoccupations about shopping made me realize that the bad guys lost. We won. Twenty years later, Americans can go about their lives blissfully unaware of what happened 20 years ago.
There’s obvious downsides to this. We should do our part to help people remember that this is a unique place to live. Most of human history has not been like this.
9/11 reminds us that evil exists, and without sustained vigilance, it can consume the world. The U.S. has frequently been the backbone that pushes back against this evil. It illustrates that while there will always be darkness, there will also always be light. From my experience, the light is always overpowering in the long run; the sun always rises. This may be naïve, but that’s the world I choose to live in — it’s the world that other people have created for us thanks to their service and sacrifice.
It’s beautiful that there’s room for people to live innocently unencumbered by today’s challenges and problems. I intend to spend the rest of my day enjoying time with friends and compatriots. But I will also spend time thinking about what this day actually means — I’m not in much of a position to alter any outcomes currently, but I’m readily supportive of those who are. In time I hope I too can increase the tangibility of my contribution, but today is a reminder that the world only needs a little bit from all of us. It’s the small decisions every day that collectively contribute to our country’s success. And then, every once in a while, there are moments when we face decisions that have lasting consequences. The people who ran towards the buildings are one obvious example, as are those who crashed the fourth plane 20 years ago.
It’s become fashionable to proclaim all the ways the U.S. has faltered and how it will fail. Days like today show us that these bad things can and will happen. But at the same time, there are people who have committed themselves and their lives to uphold an absurdly ambitious idea of a government of, by, and for the people — one that had never been tried before. And without continued effort, this experiment will end. An unknowable number of people have paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of this idea, and many more will do the same.
The world is quite crazy right now, and the past few years have been hard to stomach on multiple fronts. Today reminds us that America has faced many of these dark moments before. There’s no guarantee this experiment will continue, but it has because people believed in this vision and did what they could to keep it going. I know that people still feel this way. That should give us hope — we’re living in this very moment because people made astounding choices in service of a vision of something greater than themselves, in far more dire and turbulent times.
I’m living my life without fearing for it, and I’m quite grateful for that. The fact that 20 years ago I could live innocently just as teenagers are today demonstrates that Americans’ sacrifices mean something. We are all living through this experiment together, and I’ll never forget how special that is.