September 11, 2001…it’s one of those days we can’t think about without remembering where we were and what we were doing when tragedy struck.
When the first plane hit the tower in New York City just before 9:00 a.m., people were well into their morning work. Accountants were accounting…bankers were banking…cleaning people were cleaning…people were working, eating and going on as they did every other Tuesday. While in other parts of the country, many people were just waking up – or already preparing for their day – when the news came. Terror struck our entire country in the blink of any eye and our lives would never be the same.
In the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, Americans found themselves embracing a new holiday known as Patriot Day (as designated by President Bush on September 4, 2002), when flags across our country will remain at half-staff. Typically American holidays serve to celebrate the positive impact of important figures or events in history. But given the sobering level of human destruction that occurred on that day at the hands of terrorists, why do we celebrate Patriot Day each year on September 11?
The answer is not only relatively simple, but it is indeed as compelling as it is heartening. In the days following the tragic events of September 11, America displayed a level of resilience and courage that proceeded to define its national character. From the valiant rescue efforts of the firefighters both during and after the event, to the tendency of the American people to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives and economy after the most severe attack ever to take place on American soil, Americans showed the world that they would not allow themselves to be beat down by foreign threats.
We saw American people rise to the challenge by displaying the kind of compassion and fortitude that many of the nation’s opponents thought they were incapable of. People who rarely spoke to each other began to nod their heads as if to say: “We are all family and we are in this together.” Flags appeared everywhere imaginable and communities rallied together to show that we will not be made to fear for our lives.
Ultimately, Patriot Day is about never forgetting what the nation endured on that fateful day, as well as how it managed to recover from the event in physical, psychological and economic terms. It is an event that we would never have expected to see in our children’s history books.
But perhaps more significantly, Patriot Day serves as a reminder to all Americans of not only where we have come from, but where we may be headed in the future. The holiday allows America to honor the members within its society who are the most admired — and these individuals are most often those without a national face. We are simply everyday citizens who are able to shine when the unimaginable occurs. We are Americans.