17 years later: What we forgot

Never forget.

We say it all the time, especially today. But what do we mean?

Obviously, those of us who were alive on September 11, 2001, will never forget what we witnessed that day, whether in person or on TV. We’ll never forget the tragedy, the pain, the desperate hope of families who posted photos of missing loved ones on the streets of NYC. We’ll never forget the bravery of so many, especially the firefighters, police officers and other first responders who went into the buildings and up the stairs to try and save lives despite the imminent danger.

We’ll never forget so much about that day and the days after, where an eerie silence hung heavy in bright blue skies above.

But we forgot something very important — something that has been fading more and more with each passing year.

The World Trade Centers were a microcosm of America, filled with people who were rich, poor, middle class, young, old and middle aged. Filled with people of many different ethnicities and religions — many were American-born citizens, many were not. Black, white, rich, poor, it didn’t matter. In the Pentagon, we had military and civilians die and in the planes, all kinds of people. We mourned them all.

Nearly 3,000 people died that day at the World Trade Centers, at the Pentagon and in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and we will never forget their heroism, their terror, this tremendous and gut-wrenching tragedy.

What we did forget is what the terrorists wanted in the first place. They wanted to break America. They wanted to change America. It is heartbreaking to say this, but 17 years later, they are coming close to winning.

At 9 p.m., President George W. Bush said to the nation:

“Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”

But, looking at where we stand today in 2018, the foundation of America has shifted; it has been shaken. We have turned patriotism into nationalism — America First/Only (and really, it seems there’s a distinct push to make it White America First or White Christian America First).

After a day in which most of the world stood with us, we have made significant changes to instead stand alone, shunning and insulting our long-time allies and isolating ourselves on important topics that affect the world. We have been acting in antagonistic ways instead of the protagonist role we used to try to play and are losing our “leader of the free world” status in the U.N. and around the world.

We no longer welcome immigrants in our country whose foundation was made from immigrants. The very monument to this foundational belief sits in NYC, the epicenter of that day’s tragedy, yet we are currently shunning what that monument stands for, and making even immigrants who are here legally (some who have fought for our country) feel very unwelcome.

Our own president attacks the freedom of the press — the foundation of all our freedoms, whether you realize that or not. Without a free press, none of us are free. Regardless of whether you seek truth or not, access to truth is a cornerstone of freedom.

This list of how turned-around we’ve become is so long I could keep going, but it’s in front of our faces every day. So please, open your eyes and see it. America, the Beautiful, is breaking because we let fear distort our thinking. We allowed politicians and propagandists to manipulate that fear and we forgot what America really stands for.

We forgot how to stand united.

We forgot what freedom is made from and requires.

We forgot that, yes, our diversity does make us stronger.

We forgot that mostly everyone in the world stood with us and were ready and willing to again.

We forgot that much of our strength comes from a will and an ability to help others, both in our own country and around the world.

We forgot that when people pull together they can withstand any attack, any tragedy.

We forgot that we are capable of being our best selves when it really matters.

Every day it matters, we must not forget.

Today of all days, we must recommit to the ideal of a free, equal and just America. We cannot let the terrorists win. We cannot forget the lives lost on this day or the lives lost since then by those rescue workers who were at Ground Zero and our military who have deployed in wars since then.

We cannot forget what truly makes America great — our principles and our people, all people. I know the two things we have in common is that we all love our country and we all want to honor those lost on September 11th. Let’s start there.

The best way to honor the lives lost is to live in that spirit we all had on and right after 9–11.

Divided, we will fall. United we must stand.

Please, never forget.