Today is the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, on the Pentagon here in Washington, D.C., and on the plane that crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people—more than 400 were police officers, firefighters, and first responders. 9/11 stands as the deadliest foreign attack on United States soil since the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Most of us can remember exactly where we were when that first plane hit the twin towers. Some of us have vivid and personal memories of family or friends impacted by the attacks—especially the attack on the Pentagon.
But at the distance of 19 years, what else do we remember from that day? What are the things that still stand out and command our attention nearly two decades later?
One thing that stands out for me is how our communities—across the country—came together. With little known about the organization or people behind the attacks, we united to care for one another, to support one another, and to face uncertainty together. On 9/11, we learned the meaning of the word indivisible. Perhaps it is important now for us to recall that as recently as 9/11 we knew what it was as a country to come together and to confront the things that might divide or destroy us.
I hope we will never forget the courageous behavior of the first responders—the ones who went into the towers to try to help when everyone else was running out. And the desperate the bravery of the passengers who rushed the cockpit and brought the plane down in Pennsylvania to prevent greater loss of life in D.C. Or the paramedics and military personnel who attended to the wounded at the Pentagon. As the details of the disaster dim in our memories, let us never forget the sacrifice of all those brave souls who responded so selflessly in the chaos and destruction.
One more thing that should always stand out for us from the attacks is the singular message left for us by those who were destined to perish as the towers came down. Again and again, when confronted with certain death, the one thing they all sought to do was send messages of love to their families and those they cared about. The most common last words were “I love you.” In the face of death, love was still the victor. Let’s not ever forget that.
As September 11, 2001, becomes a distant memory, history is still being made each day—by all of us. By the way we live our lives. By the way we conduct ourselves in difficult times. By how willing we are to put the needs of others before our own. By how well we love each other.
9/11 is forever engraved in our history. But how we respond to its impact is still being written, 19 years later. Now it is our history to make.