You’re only 10 weeks old and you are just figuring out that you have hands and toes, so most of what makes up our world is still meaningless to you. But someday you’ll grow up and you’ll sit in history class and hear about September 11th, about the day evil men boarded American planes and crashed them into big buildings in New York City, killing innocent women and men and children and babies.
You’ll hear people who are older, your parents and grandparents and their friends, talk about where they were on that awful morning and you’ll probably wonder why so many make such a big deal out of something that happened a long time ago.
And so there’s a few things I want you to know about September 11, 2001, that day that for you will seem so far away.
1. Bad guys are out there. That day was so shocking for so many of us, I think, because in theory everyone knows that there are bad guys out there. But on that sunny morning, it was terrifying to realize how vulnerable all of us were to the bad guys. As Americans watched their television sets in their homes and schools and workplaces and saw those big beautiful buildings fall, crumbling on top of the people inside, we all felt helpless and scared, maybe more helpless than we ever had before.
2. America is exceptional because of her communities. This country was built upon the idea that we are free only as long as our neighbors are free. When we watched the videos over and over again of those planes hitting the Twin Towers, we realized that the terrorists weren’t simply attacking some tall buildings, or New York City, or even American finance. Those planes were aimed at every American mommy, daddy, and child. They were aimed at every employer, every employee, every teacher, every doctor, every businessman, every taxi driver, every farmer. Those planes were aimed at all of us.
On that sunny late summer day, thousands of Americans suddenly spoke to and listened to, and cried with neighbors and co-workers and strangers in a way that most of them never had before and in a way that is probably unmatched in history. We realized anew that America is great because Americans don’t live as isolated individuals. Americans stand together and act; Americans care about their neighbors. If my neighbor is hurting, I hurt. If another city is attacked, it’s no different than if our town was attacked.
3. Americans are courageous. The brave men and women who sacrificed during the Revolutionary War to make America an independent nation were courageous. The pioneers who trekked across unknown miles to better their lives were courageous. The entrepreneurs and inventors who risked their careers and fortunes to create more opportunity for others were courageous. The soldiers who sleep far away from their families are courageous. And every American, who gets up to go to work and school, who sacrifices to save money to make tomorrow better for their babies, who gets on a plane to attend a job interview, who faces the risk of economic uncertainty and continues to believe and act as if things will get better, is courageous.
4. Americans take responsibility for themselves and their neighbors. On that terrible morning, everyday Americans didn’t wait for Superman to come rescue them. They acted. Fireman and policemen and executives like Rick Rescorla went above and beyond to rescue people from the buildings that were doomed to fall. Americans don’t wait to be rescued or expect someone else to do the dirty work. They work to protect themselves, their families, and the people around them.
5. Americans believe that the good guys will win. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 showed us all, in stark horrible relief, that the bad guys were out there. And for a little while, it felt like they were winning. But Americans know better. Americans have seen terrible regimes shrivel and dictatorships fall. Americans saw the end of the Cold War and the Berlin Wall collapse. Americans stormed the beach at Normandy because Americans know that evil can’t be allowed to win. America is exceptional because Americans believe in good endings and in heroes.
I look at you and I marvel at how much you have to learn and how exciting the world before you is. While you’re learning about your country and your world, Miles, I want you to remember these things and learn about them and tell your friends and your children about them because those events and that day serve as a memorial.
We all need memorials to remind us who we are and what we are and why we are. We need memorials to show us where we came from and light the way to where we are going.
And so, Miles, that is why we remember those gleaming towers that are missing from the New York City skyline. Never forget September 11, 2001.