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The Legacy of 9/11

8:30 AMHeather

I sat on the floor in disbelief. A phone call from a frantic friend had directed me to turn on the television. I was watching it all happen live, as my two-year-old sat next to me, playing with his toys. I had put my infant down for his morning nap. My sons were oblivious to the magnitude of what was happening. 

People have tried to find words for what we saw on that day and for the way that we felt while we, as a nation, endured an unprecedented attack on our own soil. 

Yes, throughout the history of our nation, we've sent our men and women and brave military all over the world, where the horrors of war ravaged the land on which the battles occurred.

But this was different. We were not sending in trained soldiers to foreign lands for this battle. This battle came to us. To innocent men and women and children who simply got up that morning to go about their day. Working. Boarding a plane. Going to a building for a meeting. Men and women and children who woke up on a bright, clear and crisp September morning, where no one could have fathomed what was coming.

It all happened in real time on live television, and job of news anchors suddenly involved genuine reactions to chilling events, while a nation watched. While the world watched. We all saw what was happening and it was inexplicable.

For my parents' generation, they can all recall where they were at the exact moment when they learned President Kennedy had been killed.

For my generation, we can all recall exactly where we were when the towers fell. When the Pentagon was hit. When valiant passengers on a fourth plane determined they would not be part of another assault by aircraft. 

We can all recall exactly how we found out and the barrage of images that revealed the story. The hours we sat glued to the television. The anxious and frenzied phone calls to check on loved ones. Being paralyzed in the places where we sat, unsure of what might happen next. What was the next target? How many planes had yet to reveal their horrible mission in the hands of a terrorist? Was it safest to stay put in your downtown Dallas office building? Or to drive on home? 

For my family, living near DFW airport, the most gut wrenching sound of all was the eerie silence. The constant background noise of planes and air traffic had long since passed our notice. The sudden lack of it was deafening.

This event, or rather, this series of events, fourteen years ago, must not be forgotten. We cannot afford to forget those who perished. Those who rescued. Those whose lives were ripped apart. Those who live with the trauma and health issues as a result of that day. Every last person who suffered on that day and ever since.

We cannot afford to forget.

And we cannot afford to forget the legacy we received through the events of that day.

Because against the horrendous backdrop of incredible suffering and tragedy, we saw the goodness of man. We saw the humanity that unites us. Across racial lines. Across religious differences. Across political affiliations. Across sexual orientation. Across everything that tends to divide us. It all disappeared. There were no categories that day.

There was just us. Americans. Citizens of the world who lost innocent people. And in the moment of greatest need, people rose up to meet them. In the moment of pain and injury and fear and panic, we all rose to meet the challenge. We all rushed headlong to our churches for prayer meetings and public gatherings where we could mourn and plead with heaven to help.

The boundaries and barriers that tend to obscure us from one another disappeared. 

The towers fell, along with our divisions. Along with our arguments against each other and our petty bickering.

None of that matter. 

Because the events of 9/11 reminded us all of the real enemy. And it wasn't each other. It was the evil of godless men who sought to steal, kill and destroy.

And we as a nation were determined that they would not win. That while they struck a deadly blow, they would not win. Because they had awakened a sleeping giant. 

We were one nation, under God. Indivisible.

That's who we were as the smoke cleared on that awful day.

We wore the American flag as a pin on our lapel. We flew the stars and stripes to show our solidarity. In fact, flags were hard to come by as the stores quickly sold out.

Because we were not going to sell out. We were not going to sell out to fear or terror. We were not going to give the terrorists the last word.

Our resolve grew to fight against the real enemy and to band together, for together we are strongest. A house divided against itself cannot stand. That was a lesson learned throughout the fall of 2001.

Yet here we are. Fourteen years later. Desensitized to the true atrocities still occurring in our day. Picking fights politically. Allowing hate to breed hate, instead of choosing love and grace and community and solutions. Bickering amongst ourselves instead of seeking to understand each other. Allowing first world problems to blind us to real issues and real problems. Because on our watch, as we rip each other apart about petty things, here's what is happening around the world.  Refugees are fleeing for their lives, leaving home and security behind. Orphans who have been legally adopted  are being held captive by a ruthless leader. School girls have been kidnapped to become sex slaves to terrorists. Human trafficking is destroying the lives of countless people. And an American pastor is fighting for his life as he has been tortured and imprisoned for three years because of his faith in another country. Meanwhile, we are all up in arms about a county clerk being jailed for five nights, where she was fed and clothed and certainly not beaten or tormented.

What a short memory we have. We've become a culture of rubberneckers, as my pastor says. The information age means we slow down long enough to gawk at the horrors around us, and then we put our foot on the gas and move on.

That it would not be so. That we would stop on this day and pause long enough to truly remember.

To remember the legacy of 9/11. The unity it brought. The revelation of real enemies seeking to destroy the fabric of our country. The compassion and service and love and support that we offered one another. The prayers that were said and the public expressions of running to God that were not debated on a legislative floor. Because when terror came knocking on our door, we as a nation realized our great need.

So we banded together. We stood with one another and for one another. We put differences aside and focused on helping one another.

That is who we are. That is who the founding fathers dreamed we could be. One nation, under God, indivisible.

May we stop on this day and let the lessons of 9/11 not be in vain.

But remember that we are stronger together. We are all human. We all have things in common if we would just stop and listen to each other. We are all in need. And we all have something to offer the people around us.

We can offer ourselves.

That is the legacy of 9/11.

Let us hold fast to perpetuating such a legacy.

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