As our nation commemorated the 11th anniversary of the attacks, it marked another year of remembering the most traumatic national event our generation has seen. Flags flew at half-mast, the president spoke to us, we saw the footage of Ground Zero again and…we remembered.
Some of us may have known people at Ground Zero that day, but chances are most of us didn’t. What comes to mind when we commemorate a day like that? When we say, “We can’t ever forget,” we’re holding onto something, but it’s not always clear what exactly that is.
We lost people that day to an act of terrorism. Something cut deep to the core of our nation, but it seems we don’t quite know what to do with that wound. We reopen it every year to remember and then bandage it back up, hoping we never have to experience anything like that again.
As terrorism arrived at our front door, it brought with it a stark realization that we’re not an isolated country, separated by a sea of water from the rest of the world. It also showed us that we should never take freedom for granted.
This September 11, I watched a YouTube video of Jon Stewart’s first “Daily Show” taping after the attacks. As he choked out his monologue, the normally dry, cynical comedian spoke from an obviously broken heart. His words made me stop and think.
He said of his often irreverent, politically charged talk show, “We can sit in the back of the country and make wise-cracks…never forgetting the fact that it is a luxury in this country that allows us do that…allows for open satire…We don’t take that for granted.”
How easy it is to forget that.
Now, 11 years later, those feelings of gratitude for freedom—the unity and solidarity our nation felt so keenly in the months afterward—seem all but gone. We’ve settled back into ugly, snide politics, and it’s believed the U.S. is the most divided it’s been in recent history. Can’t we remember the things that made us thankful for each other, for our country, for our freedoms?
The economy’s a mess, our system of government infuriates me on a daily basis and student loans loom overhead. I easily get caught under the weight of it all and see everything that’s wrong—and there’s a lot wrong. Yet there is so much that’s right, so much that’s good, and I forget how fortunate I am.
The ability to write for the opinion section of my school’s newspaper without the fear of retribution is a luxury I forget to cherish, as is lining up to vote in November without the threat of bombings every hour. Those things I consider to be “rights” are privileges some people may never experience.
That’s worth remembering.
September 11 was a day when we faced our vulnerability as a nation. Rather than leaving it at “let’s hope it doesn’t happen again” and patching the wound back up, the best way to commemorate it would be to remember all the small and big ways freedom weaves itself through our daily lives.
My problems, my complaints, my gripes—valid though they may be—in the context of a global society much bigger and more complex than my little corner of the world, begin to look a little smaller when held up to the light of liberty and justice for all.
That’s something worth remembering.