“I remember where I was.” That’s a statement I heard many times, growing up. About the assassination of JFK.
And as a child, I believed cataclysmic events in history were just that — history. They were something I would never in my lifetime see. My generation wouldn’t have our own Dallas devastation.
Yet I remember where I was — waking in Nashville to talk on the radio of the “tragedy in New York.” I called my friend on the West Coast. “What happened?” She didn’t know.
It wasn’t until I arrived at work that I learned of the terrible story. A tale of death and destruction. Of something which once was, now gone forever. Buildings; security; lives.
So many lives.
And in the aftermath, as people across the political aisle donned red, white, and blue and chanted “U-S-A,” pundits shouted proclamations of a new day.
Yet how quickly we forgot. Not the terror. Not the event. But something bigger. Something that existed long before September 11, 2001. Something we recalled for a moment in history, and then, as ground zero was cleaned up and investigations and military action were tapered, we forgot all over again.
We forgot America.
Land of the free and home of the brave.
A place of county fairs and family Christmases. A world of childhood innocence and the embrace of true love. A country — of parishes and towns, of friends and neighbors. Of pursuing one’s dream, finding one’s sweetheart, of investing in children, in the community, in the nation of immigrants that became a solidified whole. A country united. United States.
In 2016, there was talk of her. Of America. Of making her great again. But have we? Some say policies and legislation have signaled a return to political principles once cherished across the fruitive plain; yet all of this “making” has occurred within a cacophony of hatred. On both sides. Insults, and violence, and ugliness. All things that are not American. And all things that are far from great.
We have sought to destroy both parties, each by the other, like the collapsing of twin towers. And the planes of terrorism have been fueled by our own animus.
If we truly want to remember the good of this nation, today and every day, we must remember the nation itself. And what it was. And should forever be.
It isn’t about politics. It isn’t about rhetoric. It’s about people. Us. One another. The way we live our lives. The way we treat those around us. The time we spend with our children. The honor we give to our parents. The way we let that special someone know they are loved beyond measure. We are not made better by loud voices, condemning the ideas of strangers; we are elevated by soft tones, speaking words of kindness to those who matter. Not in Washington; not across the country; but across the room.
If we invest in those things — the minds and hearts and lives of those we hold dear — and if we take that love and that peace and that security and allow it to spread, then we can be great. We can be something that once was. We can build it; secure it. With our lives.
We are so many lives.
And we can do this. We don’t need Washington. Or presidents. Or legislators. We only need a return, for each and every one, to the things that matter. The events that shape us.
“I remember where I was. When my child was born.”
I remember how I felt. When my father died.”
“I remember my bride, when she said, ‘I do.'”
“I remember my son, when he rode that bike.”
These are the things of life. Of communities. Of towns. Of us.
This is who we are. And we are America.
May we remember the loss of life, 17 years ago today, and in doing so, remember what life is.
It isn’t politics.
It isn’t whether a state is red or blue.
It’s who is in your life. And how you let them know you’re glad.
And how you remember where you are: in the greatest nation in the world, at an incredible time in history, in this room, with these people. In this life. In this moment. With this opportunity, to tell those with whom God has blessed you that you’re grateful for the gift. Of friends, of family, of life.
If we do that, no matter who is elected, and no matter who attacks us, America will be — as it always should be — great.