Today marks the ten year anniversary of one of our nation’s most tragic days. We all remember where we were when we lost over 3,000 of our fellow Americans in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania.
The victims were moms and dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. They left behind families and friends, distraught in their loss yet dedicated to persevering. They were white and black; Hispanic and Asian American; Christian, Jewish and Muslim; and every possible combination that makes up the great American family. In short, they were America in all its great diversity and strength.
Shortly after that dark day, I visited Ground Zero. Amid the rescue workers, the photographs of the lost and missing, and the American flags waving above the rubble, there was great and reverent silence. There were few words being spoken. Only mournful, respectful silence. And tears.
But there was also great hope as our sense of duty and heroism was revitalized in the days and months following the attack. There was a new emphasis on joining together to build a stronger country, and we saw this in ways large and small. For some it meant raising a flag for the first time, for others it meant giving blood or helping out at a local senior center. And for others it meant a call to service in our armed forces and a willingness to put their lives on the line for our freedoms. Their sacrifices — and the sacrifices of their families — continues to this day.
Despite the tremendous challenges our nation faced in the aftermath of this assault, we also found strength and security in the rejection of intolerance. We refused to condone stereotyping of, or violence against, fellow Americans because of their backgrounds or religion. I am proud of how our communities guarded against racial and religious bigotry and stood up for our friends and neighbors.
The thread through all these actions was that we were caring a little more about the people around us. Not just our friends and our family, but our community and our country. The loss of innocent lives and the countless selfless actions we witnessed in response inspired us to recognize the touch of Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature.”
Ten years later the images and memories of 9/11 live on. And while we may mourn a little less, the need to come together as a nation remains. Our nation is at a crossroads. Yes, the rubble of the World Trade Center has been cleared, the Pentagon rebuilt, and the memorial in Stoneycreek Township, Pennsylvania completed, but today we struggle with a weak economy, and too many of our friends and neighbors are looking for work.
This anniversary is a time to reawaken that spirit of community and country that was sparked on 9/11. We must put aside that which divides us and find common purpose as Americans once again. We must pull together to honor the victims and survivors by building a stronger America.
On this September 11th, let’s make this tenth anniversary one of action. Let us pledge to take at least one tangible action to improve our community in the next year. This could be as simple as dropping off some groceries at a food bank, signing up as a volunteer in our schools, or mentoring a child in need. While many are already giving, we could contribute even more to a charity or donate our time to clean up a park. Here on the Central Coast we have a history of doing just that. So let’s build on that legacy.
Ten years ago, at the end of a day of national crisis and tragedy, I stood on the Capitol steps with hundreds of my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats alike, in a show of national unity and resolve. The spirit of unity on Capitol Hill was only a tiny symbolic action soon dwarfed by the enormous outpouring of kindness across the nation, but it is one which we clearly need to see again and especially in Washington.
I believe in America and know that our future is bright. And I see the reason for that belief reflected in gatherings across the nation today – in our diversity and our humanity and our irrepressible spirit. Let us once again channel the strength and hope and unity we found in the aftermath of 9/11 and begin a new chapter in rebuilding America.