I was living in Chicago at the time, employed as a teacher in an independent high school. I will never forget the moment that an administrator told me, with a seriousness and fear that I had never seen from him either before or since, that the World Trade Center had been hit and that he was “not f**king kidding!”
Down in the school gym we listened to a live conversation on NPR between a reporter and someone inside one of the towers who was describing the tower-rattling boom, the stifling smoke and the NYPD’s initial orders to stay put. Little did either party know what would soon become of that man on the phone. He almost assuredly did not make it down in time to save his life.
We all have our 9/11 memories, seared into our minds much the way that Kennedy’s assassination lies forever in the minds and hearts of our parents or grandparents. But this time was different. We were now at war. We just didn’t know with who. Or how the war would unfold. Or how long it would last. Or its long-term implications, including our protracted struggles with Radical Islam and ISIS. At that moment we simply knew that we had been dealt a devastating blow, one from which we now know that we would never fully recover.
In the backdrop of that horrible day emerged greatness, all throughout America and beyond. We observed deep demonstrations of patriotism, volunteerism, giving, brotherly love, and a sense of underlying unity. Who can forget the people all throughout the land waving their Stars and Stripes, wearing their I©NY t-shirts (even in Boston!), and donning NYPD caps? Who wasn’t choked up when President George W. Bush (love him or hate him) stepped on the mound at the old Yankee Stadium and delivered a strike to home plate before Game 3 of the World Series? These were defining moments in a country that today seems so hard-pressed to get out of its own way.
This is a scary time for America once again. Our struggles with Radical Islam, with Russia and with others show that we still have our work to do on the international front. Our presidential race seems like a slug fight between Narcissus and Pinocchio. The economy continues to stumble along while we rack up mind-numbing debt. The war on Blue by #Blacklivesmatter inciters threatens to undermine urban stability and the war on the National Anthem by some puffed up, overpaid athletes who have had millions handed to them for playing a game threatens to keep us focused on what’s broken rather than on what’s working.
For a day, this 15th anniversary of a second Day Which Will Live in Infamy, let us try to find ways to reconnect with that special spark of freedom, liberty and deep pride in the American Way. Let us use the painful memories of the past to propel us to a better place in the future, where we stop apologizing for being a nation that does more good for more people in more places more times than any other nation. Ever. In all of human history.
May God continue to preserve our freedoms and my God continue to bless the United States of America.