Most of us who are old enough to be able to do so can remember what we were doing when the world stopped turning 17 years ago this morning (Tuesday).
Some of us were at work. Some of us were on the road, either headed to work or somewhere else. Some of us were at home eating breakfast. But all of us were shocked and horrified when we heard that terrorists crashed two airplanes into each tower of the World Trade Center in New York City and another plane into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Almost 3,000 people lost their lives that day and America hasn’t been the same since.
But in the midst of those dark days — some of the darkest days in American history — something amazing happened. A country where people were still divided in the wake of a close, controversial presidential election less than a year earlier put aside their differences for a little while and came together. We prayed together, we cried together and most of all, we stood together. For a short time, the United States of America was truly united.
And as we reflect on this 17th anniversary of 9/11, let us also remember what we learned 17 years ago.
One, we learned to look past our differences to come together for the good of the country. Instead of focusing on the things that divide us, we focused on what we had in common — something that is sorely needed now in this era of hyper-partisanship. Whether we are Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative or whatever, it is safe to say that we all love our country and that we want what’s best for it, even if we sometimes differ on what is best exactly is.
Two, we learned not to stereotype. While the 9/11 attacks were the work of radical Islamic terrorists, we did not buy into the rhetoric that “all Muslims are terrorists.” Even President George W. Bush, a conservative Republican, spoke against that line of thinking.
“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war,” Bush said in a speech he gave shortly after 9/11.
Finally, we learned that we are at our best when we are united. We are at our best when we look past each other’s differences to come together united as one country. We are not at our best when merely belonging to a different political party is grounds for hatred. We are not at our best when we stereotype and label those who are different than us. And we are certainly not at our best when we rejoice in mistreatment of those who do not share our views.
As we look back on 9/11 this day and every day, let us take these lessons to heart and remember that whether we are Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals, white, black, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, atheist or whatever, we are all Americans.