On September 11, 2081, an unborn generation of American leaders will gather in New York City for an annual pilgrimage to mourn the loss of innocent lives and America’s innocence. By then few alive will remember the beautiful Manhattan skyline of yesteryear and that bright blue September day. Few alive will be able to recall the horrors we experienced and the profound patriotism that ensued. Few will remember this tumultuous moment in our nation’s history.
Those old enough to remember and lucky enough to be octogenarians will be given a profound task: to remind the future of our past.
Though our hearts were united in grief, we’ve grown further and further away from one another. Even on such a solemn day, the usual political diatribe shows no sign of relenting — refusing to take pause.
Hard as it is to acknowledge, history has not done justice to September 11th. In our heartbreak and rage, America began its longest war…one that will soon enter its twentieth year. Over seven thousand American service members lost their lives, many of whom were just children or teenagers when the towers fell.
America, for some time now, has grown weary of itself. We’ve become distant, treating old friends as enemies and neighbors as traitors. We are hyper-passionate about complex issues that our relentless and senseless national dialogue has reduced to schoolyard squabbles. We have shamed intellectuals for being disconnected or smug and ordinary Americans for being bigoted — we have blindly accepted stereotypes of our fellow citizens and in the process have become self-fulling prophecies.
We demonize those who strive for a more perfect union because we refuse to acknowledge there is work to be done. We’ve allowed our politics to become muddled with money that is neither accountable nor beneficial to our electoral process. We’ve lowered our expectations of leadership and have settled with far less than the American Dream we were once promised. We have amounted patriotism to the waving of a flag, rather than fighting for the ideals for which it stands.
All of us are guilty of casting broad shadows on entire segments of our society. Many of us have given into hate, fear, and the veil of anonymity provided by the digital age. In this uncharted territory that we now explore, we have failed to “never forget” and consider what that really even means. It isn’t a call to war or rally cry for vengeance — it’s a reminder of that brief moment when we all knew what it meant to be an American.
We are failing those who lost their lives. We are failing those who defend our freedoms. We are failing our children and ourselves — not because the challenge is too great, but because we’ve refused to face it.
These next few years, whatever our political differences, we must all strive to return decency and principle to our young but mighty republic. It can be difficult when we’re guided by those who promote irreverence, but we must find common ground whenever we can and with democracy rid ourselves of our most radical and primitive elements.
Our place in this world, the beacon of liberty those terrorists sought to extinguish, it is not a guarantee or inheritance. We were passed a torch, but only we can keep it lit.
When we mark the eightieth anniversary of our darkest day, we must strive to say that for a time America’s greatness may have dimmed but never once extinguished—that the torch is still bright and ready for passing, eager to again look upon the great Manhattan skyline in the hand of liberty herself.