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The Value of 9/11: A Short Pause for National Unity

Of course, we can never recapture that singular moment of unity from 19 years ago, nor should we need another moment of tragedy to be what brings us together. But because we are so incredibly divided today, perhaps the memory of 9/11 can help us temper our divisions so they don’t turn into irreversible animosity.
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September 11, 2020
NEW YORK, NY – JULY 04: Small American flags are placed in all 2,983 names on the 9/11 Memorial on July 4, 2017 in the Manhattan borough of New York City. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

Our country has become so viciously divided it’s hard to remember a time when we were not at each other’s throats.

But there was such a time. It was 19 years ago today. We all remember where we were when terrorists hijacked commercial airplanes and flew them right into the Twin Towers. Thousands died. The images stunned the nation. A poor soul threw himself out of a window rather than perish in the fires of hell. Hundreds of firefighters lost their lives trying to save others.

To paraphrase President Franklin Roosevelt, it was a day that will surely live in American infamy. And that’s not a bad thing, because here’s what I remember most about that day and its aftermath: Americans were utterly united.

It’s not as if we haven’t suffered national disasters before or since that have brought us together. We have, from devastating hurricanes and earthquakes to horrible mass shootings.

But 9/11 felt different.

It happened at a time when New York City had recaptured the heart of the nation, with Times Square feeling like a safe Disneyland after its crime-ridden past. The Twin Towers were the ultimate symbol of the ultimate American city. If you wanted to rip the heart out of a nation, take those towers down for everyone to see– which we did, over and over again.

The images of those giant towers crumbling were overwhelming. It left us numb, shocked, furious. But it also left us united. A feeling of compassion for the victims spread throughout the country. It didn’t matter if the victims were Democrats or Republicans. Ethnicity, gender, age, class, race— none of it mattered. What mattered was that they were all part of the human race.

It didn’t matter if the victims were Democrats or Republicans. Ethnicity, gender, age, class, race— none of it mattered. What mattered was that they were all part of the human race.

That extraordinary feeling of unity didn’t last, of course. It can’t. But for a moment at least, we all felt it. We felt united by a common pain, a common shock, a common purpose.

As dark as those days were, it was still breathtaking to see a whole nation rally around an unspeakable tragedy.

Is there value to remembering that show of unity? I think so. However fleeting it was, it gave us a taste of something bigger than ourselves; it showed us what can happen when the common good overtakes our individual interests.

Because we are so incredibly divided today, perhaps the memory of 9/11 can help us temper our divisions so they don’t turn into irreversible animosity.

Of course, we can never recapture that singular unifying moment, nor should we need another tragedy to bring us together. But because we are so incredibly divided today, perhaps the memory of 9/11 can help us temper our divisions so they don’t turn into irreversible animosity.

We are blessed in America to have a tradition of commemorating big events in our history– whether they are great or devastating. As we remember today the victims of that devastation from 19 years ago, let’s pause to remember the unity they inspired– and show them they didn’t die in vain.

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