“We will never forget.” This phrase has been emblematic of September 11, 2001 for the past 15 years. It seems to me that as a nation, we have done well to keep that promise. Personally and culturally, 9/11 still has a profound place in our collective memory.
Everyone has a story about 9/11, even those of us who were too young to remember clearly when the twin towers crumbled and a wing of the pentagon burst into flames. This staggering loss of 3,000 innocent lives became a unifier of our culture, for better or worse. Similarly to the attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1942 or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the tragedy shattered our nation.
“Where were you on 9/11?” can inspire a room of people to reflection of that day, sharing whatever experience they had.
Sometimes I wonder if how prevalent sharing these memories has reduced the impact of 9/11 through repetition. But remembrance is important, not only to honor the losses that we suffered, but also to reflect and understand how our nation has changed and grown in the last 15 years.
The night of 9/11 President Bush gave a speech, one line of which remains particularly relevant. “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings,” he said, “but they cannot touch the foundation of America.”
Ground Zero has been rebuilt, our national tragedy commemorated and our country has moved forward, but America is not the same as it once was.
Fifteen years later, Bush’s claim is only partially true. The fabric of our nation changed fundamentally in the wake of the fall of the twin towers; we became aware of external threats in a way that had never before been so clear.
Our remembrance cannot begin and end with those who lost their lives that day. As a nation, we must also remember those who still suffer. First responders, whose health has been impacted, Muslim Americans who have lived under discrimination and fear, and every family that lost loved ones.
Looking to the future, I feel confident that we will continue to heal and progress from the pain of that day. America has persevered, and will continue to do so. The new world trade center, the Freedom Tower, is built. We have memorialized our losses, and mourned for them. Even in the midst of fear and uncertainty, we ensured that our nation continues onward with optimism.
9/11 will never be forgotten, and neither will the lesson we have learned from that tragedy: that our nation will survive even in the face of those who would seek to destroy us.