It’s Patriot Day, the anniversary of the most horrible attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. If an event is worth remembering, it’s because it contains lessons for us and because it has changed us in important ways. I hope I’ll be pardoned for wondering on this Patriot Day if the change has been mostly positive or negative. What lessons have we taken from 9/11? How has it changed us?
- Has it reinforced in us the idea that it’s us against “them”? Or has it made us realize that we are more involved with the rest of the world than we previously thought?
- Has the sense of solidarity arising from tragedy wrapped us up in ourselves? Or has it included the rest of the world, especially the poor, to whom tragedy is a normal occurrence?
- Did an unjust attack provoke us to knee-jerk retaliation? Or did it open our eyes to unjust systems that we may have been too blind to see, too complacent to redress, too selfish to admit that they might be benefiting us?
- Did one example of religious intolerance make us more intolerant, afraid, suspicious of people who are different from us? Or did we make the decision to reject intolerance?
- The flag flies at half-mast today. Will that signal that we have given up a portion of the ideals of our country’s founding? Or will we still strive to be that country that welcomes “Your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,” requiring only that they be “yearning to breathe free”?
Remembrance and ServicePresident George W. Bush, by the authorization and request of Congress, declared the first Patriot Day in 2002. Besides honoring the victims and heroes of 9/11, Bush drew attention to the spirit of service of millions of Americans:
This spirit of service continues to grow as thousands have joined the newly established USA Freedom Corps, committing themselves to changing America one heart at a time through the momentum of millions of acts of decency and kindness. (First presidential 9/11 proclamation)
A presidential proclamation has marked the observance of 9/11 every year since. President Barack Obama also appealed to the spirit of service. In 2010 he named September 11 a “National Day of Service and Remembrance.”
Image credit: Patriot Day Official Website via Google Images