As I sit in my living room, fifteen years removed from the day that changed America, and our world, forever, I find my memories flying back to that day. It’s hard for me to believe that I was only 19 years old. So young, and like many of us, so very naive. I drove my beat up little Pontiac Sunbird to work that morning, in Elm Grove, as I had done so many mornings before. Starting work in a kitchen at 8AM, we didn’t hear much about what was going on. The servers would start showing up around 10, at which time I’d head out to the bar to grab something to drink, say hello, maybe stop to watch The Price is Right with them for a few minutes. When I saw CNN on the TV above the bar, I knew something wasn’t right. We watched the news being relayed of a plane that had been flown into the World Trade Center. When we saw the second plane hit, we knew the truth. America was under attack.
What struck me in the hours and days that followed was how the country came together. For a time, we weren’t black or white, Democrat or Republican, or any other label that divides us. We were just, Americans. People of a common country, united by a common grief, turning to each other to find comfort, to make sense of it all, and looking out, not for ourselves, but for what we could do for each other. For a time that seems all too short, all that mattered was unity.
Earlier this year, I visited the memorials at the Pentagon and Shanksville. All this time later, the wounds still felt fresh. Standing in the places where history was made. People who went to work, as they had so many times before, who, just like me, had no idea that this day would be so different than so many before. In a field in Pennsylvania, the reality struck me, that 33 passengers boarded that flight as strangers, but died as heroes. Together, with the crew, they came together and willingly sacrificed their lives.
Fifteen years later, it boggles my mind how far removed we are from that day, not just by time, but by distance. We argue over whose lives matter. Our major party nominees are two of the most polarizing figures in political history. Tales of unrest fill the news. Instead of the unity that we saw fifteen years ago, our country has fallen further, and farther, apart.
I’m not a smart man, and I’m not saying I have the answers to the problems that we face. People are hurt, they’re scared, and they’re searching for answers. People feel marginalized, that their voices aren’t being heard, or even listened to, that they don’t matter. This is a complex problem, and it’s going to require a complex solution. But, it’s also going to require some of what we saw fifteen years ago; unity. A return to the principle that we’re all Americans. In spite of our problems, and the challenges we face, what makes our country great is that we don’t run from problems. We solve them. We come together, give everyone a seat at the table, and figure out what needs to happen for us to move forward.
Fifteen years ago, our country and our world changed forever. Tonight, my prayer is that we work on coming together, getting back to the unity we found so long ago, and use it to move forward, and create lasting change, for good.