In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, it was easy to get lost in the devastating tragedy wrought by 19 hijackers. Feelings of helplessness and vulnerability, underscored by escalating body counts and a barrage of photographic and videographic images, were difficult to avoid.
For at least a few days, all Americans were New Yorkers. We were all bound by a common grief. But even in our grief, we did not have to look hard for symbols of hope. Even as we cried with families of the victims of that day, powerful images of the resiliency of the human spirit emerged, giving us a common purpose, a common strength. Perhaps most notable was Lisa Beamer, pregnant mother of two whose husband, Todd, was one of the heroes of Flight 93. Addressing a shell-shocked nation, she spoke of how proud she was of her husband and how his memory would be kept alive by her children.
More than burning and crumbling towers, more than dust-covered firefighters, the simple poignancy of her grief-stained pride speaks volumes about the transcendent power of the human spirit and all that we, as Americans and as people, have to be proud of.
As we reflect on the events of that day, it is prudent to ponder the lessons learned in a year's time.
Has the general feeling of good will and kindness, evidenced by the outpouring of financial and emotional support after the attacks, subsided? Are we still as apt to greet a stranger on the street?
Should driving a fuel-efficient vehicle be considered as patriotic as flying Old Glory from the back of a gas guzzler?
What has been gained in the dropping of countless bombs and the loss of countless innocent lives in Afghanistan?
Has an increasingly ill-defined "War on Terrorism" lost its focus? Is the government in step with its master, the citizens of the United States? Or are the interests of corporate sponsors being favored over the interests of the people?
Do we, as Americans, feel safer now, both at home and abroad?
Are we comfortable with the creeping assault on our fundamental individual rights? Are we comfortable with what Congress is doing to protect our rights and interests?
Are the root causes of Sept. 11 being addressed? Can there be true and lasting peace anywhere without justice for all everywhere, not just for those who have the power to impose their will?
Are the hopes and dreams of the Afghan mother, the Palestinian mother, the Israeli mother and the Iraqi mother any less valid than those of American mothers? Shouldn't children everywhere be entitled to the same quality of life and decent future?
As we reflect on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, it is our hope that we, as a people, will be emboldened by the courage of the heroes of that day and uplifted by the strength of the survivors. Surely, we must never forget. But we must also never lose sight of what is most important.