There are a few dates on the calendar that are woven into the fabric of America -- July 4th, December 25th, February 14th -- and a few more that are etched into the minds of Americans keen on their history -- June 6th, December 7th. Today's date, September 11th, has joined that short list of dates that jump off of the calendar.
Nine years ago today, our nation suffered a horrific blow, delivered by a well-coordinated band of evil men who had a singular purpose: to murder as many innocent people as possible on the American mainland. Their hatred for America, fueled by a fanaticism that had the audacity to be based in some perverted religious principles, became such a pre-occupation in their disturbed minds that they toiled for years on the development of a plan that became reality on 9/11/01.
We all have our stories of where we were on that morning, how we heard, how we felt. I was packing some final things in my briefcase before rushing off to the airport -- to board a flight departing Los Angeles and headed for New York. I flipped on the TV just to catch a traffic report before I was going to jump on the freeway and instead saw smoke billowing out of the Twin Towers. I recall my first thought being that this was really going to delay flights into and out of JFK for the day, and getting ready to check with the airline on whether my flight was on time . . . and then seeing the ticker on the bottom of the TV screen report what now seems it should have been so obvious, that all flights in the entire U.S. had been grounded. Our nation was under attack and all I could think about in that moment was how this was going to really throw a kink into my business trip to New York.
More than 3,000 of our fellow citizens died that day, thousands more were injured, tens of thousands more were scarred in ways that few of us can ever understand, and all of us lost a little piece of our innocence. Perhaps because of the ages of my children on the day of the attacks (my oldest was five at the time, my youngest was seven months), I always connect the mass murders that took place on 9/11 to the families that were irreparably torn apart that day. The daddies who never came home from work, the moms who didn't get to say goodbye, the sons and daughters who are missing every year from the Thanksgiving dinner table.
When the sun rose on September 12th, 2001, we were a different country. The United States has not been the same place since 9/11 -- and I suspect it never will be.
When you strip away the religious nonsense propagated by the hijackers and the ridiculous chants shouted by the lunatics who applauded images of the burning towers, the real underlying conflict that triggered the 9/11 attacks was a deep-seated hatred of the real basic principles that our country has represented for 235 years. Liberty. Justice. Freedom. Education. Innovation. Entertainment. This is the stuff that is at the bedrock of our nation and so ingrained in what it means to be an American that we often take these common bonds for granted. Instead, we end up fighting with each other over whether to spend X billion dollars on Medicare or Y billion dollars on border security or Z billion dollars on highways.
We should never lose sight of the fact that the 9/11 terrorists didn't target Republicans or Democrats, they didn't target Northern liberals or Southern conservatives, and they didn't target Californians or Floridians. They targeted Americans.
But here's the good news . . . they lost.
We are still the land of the free and the home of the brave, we are still the world's best hope for freedom and we are still a beacon of liberty to the entire world. The price we paid to be that country was enormous on 9/11 and the lives that were devastated can not be put back together -- but the terrorists merely knocked us down for a day, we stand proudly as a nation nine years later and our light is still shining.
In October 2001, Congress passed a resolution to designate September 11th as "Patriot Day" every year so that we always remember the events of that awful day, the lives that were lost and the heroes that emerged. For New Englanders, that name -- Patriot Day -- has even more resonance because it is a near duplicate of a holiday on their calendar that pops up on the third Monday in April: "Patriots' Day", which is a civic holiday that commemorates the anniversary of the first battles of the Revolutionary War that took place in Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. Various Revolutionary War societies stage re-enactments of the battles each year and one of the highlights is a horseback ride by a volunteer who retraces Paul Revere's famous ride, calling out warnings that the British are coming.
Though they are separated by seven months on the calendar and otherwise have very little in common, there is something poetic about the fact that these two calendar dates bear official names that are nearly identical. Patriot Day reminds of the day we lost so many of our fellow citizens to an evil attack by terrorists filled with so much hatred. Patriots' Day reminds us of the day that we took the first courageous steps in the formation of a new nation that would ultimately become the most stable democratic republic in the history of the world.
We were targeted because there are bad people in the world who hate what we represent. We are still standing because the values that bind us together are much stronger than the differences that set us apart.