On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was in my usual spot: in front of a classroom of students, talking about my love of writing or literature or pontificating about the many virtues I hope my students will eventually demonstrate – integrity, perseverance, courage, compassion, and honor. Little did I know, but those virtues would soon be on display for those students.
On that day, we saw the worst of humanity – the ability to kill innocent people for absolutely no reason other than religious zealotry. We saw hopes and dreams snuffed out in an instant, and we watched as families and friends prayed and mourned for loved ones. We heard the stories of firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and average Americans who died while trying to help others in the World Trade Center. It was tragic and sad.
However, 9/11 also showed us the best of humanity. We saw the many brave first responders and citizens who rushed to the WTC to help those in need; we heard of the heroics of the passengers on Flight 93 who overtook the terrorists and prevented another building from being hit; we saw all the volunteers, the people in the Manhattan neighborhood, and the people from across the country who went to New York, to Washington, and to Shanksville to do whatever they could to help others; we heard the stories of young boys and girls who baked cookies to bring to the people who were working hours and hours searching through the rubble.
We also saw so many brave men and women join the military in the days, weeks, and months following 9/11. These men and women put their own lives on hold or sacrificed their lives in order to protect the rest of us. We all know the story of Pat Tillman, who gave up his lucrative pro football contract to join the Rangers and lost his life in friendly-fire in Afghanistan. There are hundreds upon hundreds of stories like that across the country – of young men and women who volunteered to fight the Islamic extremists who wished to bring harm to America and Americans.
9/11 showed the depravity of these Islamic extremists, but it also showed the compassion, strength, courage, integrity, honor, and perseverance of the men and women of the United States. The terrorists thought they would destroy America along with the symbolic nature of the Twin Towers. But they were wrong. America is more than symbols, and those terrorists did not understand that Americans will always rise up and fight, Americans will bond together and help others, and Americans will never ever give up.
While Osama bin Laden spent the past decade an old man on the run watching old newsreels of himself and died while hiding behind a human shield, Americans has rebuilt and will continue to rebuilt. The memorials in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington prove that Americans will never falter, never surrender, and, hopefully, never forget.
I will never forget those people who died on 9/11, and pray every day for their souls, their loved ones, those who continue to serve and protect us, and those in the Manhattan neighborhoods who lived through the attack and continue to bravely live each day.
I will never forget nor forgive our enemies for what they did to so many innocent men and women on 9/11. However, I will also never forget the bravery, compassion, honor, and perseverance millions of Americans have shown that day. Their actions inspire me to be a better person each and every day.