By Michael Tessler
Covered in ash, crawling through rubble, debris and fire — we found hope. Watching as brave heroes marched into towers set aflame — we found courage. Seeing an American flag rise above a hellish landscape of melted steel, blood and death — we found unity.
Our nation, at least for a moment, stood as one. Though shattered, our hearts pounded together in perfect rhythm. We knew that we would overcome the horrors seared into our memory that dreadful September day. Americans, by nature, do that — overcome. We rebuild, we remember and we defend our great American experiment. For more than two centuries we’ve fought for that noble concept, despite all odds and adversities. No enemy foreign or domestic has ever been able to change that simple and profound truth.
My memory of that day is the clearest of my entire childhood. For so many years I’ve loved heroes I’ve never met. Mourned at the reading of names: the mothers, fathers, daughters and sons. They often come to mind, especially their families, whose loss remains profound and ever present.
Fifteen years later we’ve strayed far from that national singularity, that special comfort knowing that even in the chaos, we have one another. Today it feels that we are torn so far apart that I can barely recognize the America I love.
In this time of darkness, I’m reminded of wisdom bestowed upon us by the greatest generation, in a time not so dissimilar from our own: “… the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” Perhaps our nation is still reeling in forgotten grief. Or maybe we’ve lost our national innocence and have given into the cynicism. Perhaps a decade of violence with no end has rendered us apathetic to the world at large, but I refuse to believe that is true or permanent. There will never be a clear path forward, but it must be clear that there is a path forward.
We do not have to agree with one another to show civility, we do not have to hate to protect ourselves, and we must not allow fear to dictate our lives. Those who perished represented nearly every facet of the American people. Their religions, race, sexual orientation, gender, hopes, dreams and aspirations in no way diminished the gaping hole we felt from their loss. They were people, they were our American kin, and we must ensure that “never forget” is not just a Hallmark slogan but an eternal call to action.
We are Americans. We will crawl through ash, rubble, debris and fire to give one another hope. We will march up towers aflame to give one another courage. We will raise an American flag above a landscape however hellish to let the world know that we are the UNITED States of America and that “a government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
In loving memory of Thomas M. Butler, the hero I never knew.
Michael Tessler is the Special Projects Manager for TBR News Media.