September 11th, 2001 was a terrible day. Ten years later, it is being remembered all across the country (and, one hopes, across much of the world). This is as it should be. We must never forget the human-on-human acts of violence that have littered our history. But we must also learn from them. Let's hope that today, while we bow our heads in memory of horrid events and of lives lost, we also remember the lessons from that dark day.
It is not exaggeration when I remark that September 11th -- and the days and weeks following it -- was one of the perhaps two times in my adult life that I was completely, totally scared. Attacks on your country will do that to you. It seems weird to say that we lost some of our innocence on that day. After all, the society that existed in 2001 was already pretty de-sensitized to most things, thanks to a combination of pop culture and overall human history. Yet I remember staring at the television screen in disbelief as the first World Trade Center tower fell, listening to the newscaster report what had occurred, and thinking, "No, that didn't just happen. They've made a mistake."
The fear and sadness that we all felt ten years ago will never leave those of us that lived through it. And while the gaping holes of Ground Zero will someday be filled, it's a fact that the gaping holes left in people's hearts, those who lost friends and loved ones in the attacks, will never fully be healed. A lot of people died on that day. Tragic, senseless deaths. From the folks on the planes, to the inhabitants of the twin towers, to the people in the Pentagon, down to the first responders and regular joes and janes who went to help their fellow humans in distress. A lot of death and sadness filled that day.
Much good came from that day, as well. I truly believe this. For one, we saw the heroism and bravery of people helping people. In some cases, they lost their lives doing so. But the faces of altruism on that day showcased the better part of humanity. Sometimes, we see that juxtaposed against it's worst. The best is always more powerful, and will stand the test of time. We saw the country come together (however briefly) in the wake of the attacks. The world was at our side. We witnessed a shared struggle to come to an understanding of the loss and pain.
The intervening decade since 9/11 has seen some bad times and developments: wars, more deaths, the Patriot Act, torture, etc. But it has also seen its share of positive markers. Many Americans have attempted to learn more about, and reach out to, the Muslim community. We have experienced rekindled patriotism and respect for our armed forces and the sacrifices its members make. The country elected its first black (or, bi-racial, to be technically correct) president. We have kept our heads high during tough economic times. Many of us have become more politically aware. And, of course, we remember.
Humans seem to remember things very well. We love our anniversaries and special days. But it's not enough to remember. We must also learn from our memories. The sad truth is that humanity seems to have a capacity for death and destruction almost as much as it loves to mark anniversaries. It's no use playing the blame game about who started what first. In the over-arching continuum, that is irrelevant. We must do better. We can do better. Humanity will never be perfect, otherwise we wouldn't be human. But it is within each of us to help better ourselves, and thus better our world. That is the only true way we'll ever avoid another September 11th.