Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

A Chance to Build on Our Greatness

DEAR READERS: It is September 11 again. I will never forget that day 16 years ago, when time stopped and the world as we knew it changed. I live in Manhattan, and my office is in the Village, far enough away from Wall Street to be “safe” from the explosion and destruction of the Twin Towers, but close enough to see them burning and disintegrating as they fell. I remember seeing throngs of New Yorkers standing in the street on Sixth Avenue -- Avenue of the Americas -- looking downtown, incredulous at what was playing out before their eyes. I remember.

Americans live in a bubble in many ways. We had largely been immune to terrorist activity on our shores -- at least as far as we knew. We had a false belief that really bad things happen to other people in other places, but not here.

We have always had homegrown activity that has been disturbing, violent, mean-spirited and deadly. But somehow we have not connected to that in the same way that we rallied around 9/11. Because people came from the outside to do us harm, we paid attention differently.

For years people avoided the date of 9/11 when hosting special events. It was as if that date was reserved for mourning. It was not to be engaged for anything that required a memory. A friend of mine scheduled her wedding for that date, and I recall thinking how eerie of her to make that choice.

This year, 9/11 marks the first day of school for my daughter and thousands of other children in our country. It has become, in some ways, just another day. Of course, we continue to honor those whose lives were lost as we collectively sharpen our resolve to ward off terrorism. At the same time, the date itself has been released, a bit, to be used by others as they live their lives.

I have given this some thought, wondering what it all means for us as a nation, as a culture, as members of a global community, as parts of families, as individuals. On one hand, this date will remain symbolic of a serious wake-up call for Americans. We need to pay attention to the whole world, to better understand the concerns and grievances throughout, so we can support peace and understanding. Lofty, but necessary. It also means, from my perspective, that we must live our lives on a daily basis conscious of how our thoughts, words and deeds impact others. We have the opportunity to bring new meaning to even the darkest days.

Even 9/11 can be reimagined as a beginning. For my daughter, it’s the first day of school. For others of us, it can be the day that we choose to connect more meaningfully with our neighbors. With so much negativity clouding our world, we have a responsibility to bring the light of our best selves to each moment. When we do that, we create space for honest and attentive dialogue. We open the door for collaboration rather than destruction. We build on this great experiment in democracy that is our great nation. Join me in claiming this day as a chance to build on our greatness!

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