Life is made up in large part by our memories and how we choose to be shaped by them. All of us are formed by the events we have encountered in our lives, and our reactions to those events form our worlds.
September has begun, and the rush of fall activities is almost here. Yet in the midst of the start of school, the beginning of the national mania that is football season, and the flurry of other seasonal activities, there is one date that is quickly losing its emotional impact.
We all remember where we were on Sept. 11, 2001. It is like a terrible snapshot forever seared into our national and personal memory.
For me, the morning was spent staring at a TV screen, wondering if my brother, working at the Pentagon, was still alive. Whether we or not we knew someone directly affected by the terrorist attacks that day, however, in a larger sense we were all involved. In a profound way, we were all victims.
In the days and weeks that followed, as we struggled to come to grips with those terrible events, however, we turned that victimization into a renewed national unity and shared compassion for all effected.
Today however, perhaps understandably the memories of Sept. 11 are receding in our collective awareness. Perhaps it is simply memory fatigue or an inner need to “move on,” but the events of that day are rapidly being relegated to a nod of acknowledgment on the evening news or the sight of flags at half-mast.
However understandable this might be, somewhere in this process we have lost an opportunity. To forget the events of that day is to forget the lessons that they taught. To forget the terrible events is to forget the values they offered to teach us. To simply move on is to lose the impetus to react in a positive way.
It is easy to say we must never forget, but perhaps the point is these events must continue to shape us and form our view of our world and our nation. As terrible as those lessons are, they have the power to bring us together, and remind us that we are all in this together — one nation of Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, all social classes and races and creeds.
They have the power to teach us that words like heroism and sacrifice still have value in our country, from Arlington National Cemetery to the streets where we live. They have the power to teach unity, strength and compassion.
We must never forget, but memory is not as important as what we do with those memories. Memories are a large part of our lives, and these memories must move us forward as communities, as people and as a nation.
The legacy of Sept. 11, in the end, lies with us.