On this day we are reminded of the innocent lives lost in the worst terror attack in the history of our great country. We remember brave first responders who ran toward unimaginable horror while their fellow Americans ran for shelter — more than 400 of the men and women who ran in, never made it out.
The character of our country was on full display on that terrible day and, truly, for many more days, weeks and months as we coped with the reality of 2,977 lives lost.
Then, as now, unthinkable.
So what can we do educators, as students, teachers and, ultimately, as Americans to honor the fallen on Patriot Day and every day?
For me, it’s pretty simple: Let’s start being better to one another.
Much has been made of the heroism of our first responders — police, fire and medical personnel — but not nearly enough focus has been on how our nation grieved. We grieved together, as Americans, and honored the memory of every person who lost their life that day.
If we, as a nation, could recoup even a fraction of the unifying spirit that existed in our country during the aftermath of 9/11, perhaps we would be slower to anger and quicker to listen to our fellow citizens today. Over time, we seem to have lost so much of the basic decency that existed in abundance 17 years ago and replaced it with fear, animosity and a focus on our differences.
Diversity, in America, is a source of great strength not because we focus on those differences; instead, historically we have rallied around shared experiences and ideals, standing shoulder to shoulder during difficult times. The heroes who saved lives and, in many cases, sacrificed their own didn’t make any distinction between Christian and Muslim, black and white, Republican and Democrat.
Former U.S. Senator John McCain penned a letter in the weeks before his death that encapsulates his belief that the greatness of our country resides in the strength and common decency of its people — and in our ideals. In it, he aptly defines what it means to be a patriot:
We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down; when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.
We are 325 million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country, we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before, we always do.
His words speak of our inherent ability as Americans to, in the midst of hardship, return to a common space. Since 9/11, I fear we have slowly let our differences — political or otherwise — poison our collective well-being. I hope, for the sake of our country, that all Americans can come together and return to some semblance of decency in discourse, where fences are mended, suspicions quelled and cooler heads prevail.
For the sake of our great country and to honor the memory of all the patriots who have paid the ultimate price to defend it, let us always think the best of our fellow Americans and strive to be better to one another every day.
— Matt Wandrie, Superintendent