I remember the horror of that day. I woke up like any other, decided to be irresponsible and skip my first class to get some extra sleep. Pushed myself out of bed, took a shower. Turned on the news. A generic anchorman was talking about a plane having hit the World Trade Center. It was speculated that it might have been an accident at that point - faulty navigational equipment or something. But even as he was saying this, another plane streaked in from the side of the screen and smashed into the second tower.
It was immediately apparent that this was no accident.
I remember calling my father - he travels a lot for business and I was a typical 19 year old, paying next to no attention to what this schedule was. So, for a moment, I was terrified that one of those planes could have contained my dad.
He wasn't, thankfully. But not everyone was as lucky as me. So many people lost fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, cousins, lovers, friends, grandparents...people they loved...that day.
The worst part of it was that these people were innocent. They weren't military personnel. They weren't people who were in the business of putting themselves in a dangerous position, knowing that there's a possibility of injury to them. Nope, these were just normal people, going on their daily routines.
I didn't go to class that day. Instead, I watched TV. I watched as stories unfolded. I watched as shell shocked New Yorkers wandered around covered in ash, as people jumped or fell from buildings. I watched the buildings topple. I watched people die, which was a pretty terrible thing. I felt powerless, and sad, and frightened, and afraid.
But I watched something else, too.
I saw stories unfold of average people working together to help others. Firefighters and police and aid workers putting themselves in peril to help rescue those that could be rescued. Citizens pitching in, even though there were many, many inherent dangers. I heard about another plane, which had crashed far from the location it was supposed to impact and heard the moving, heroic story of the passengers who stood up to the terrorists. Their heroic actions ensured their deaths, but also kept the death toll from rising further.
People all over the country did what they could. They sent money, they gave blood, they did everything they could to personally help out with the tragedy. Maybe they couldn't be in New York, but they took the steps they could to help.
I remember being so proud to be an American that day. I was so impressed by how people were working together, in spite of differences, to help their fellow countrymen. United We Stood.
But it's nine years later, and we are divided again. We have let our differences define us, without letting our similarities bind us. We not only define ourselves, seeming almost proud to break away into small, neatly labeled groups - we do it to others, too. Bleeding heart liberals. Muslim terrorists. Crazy Tea Partiers. Blacks. Whites. Young. Old. Republican. Democrat. For the mosque. Against it.
We will always, as a country, have differences. No one will ever agree over everything.
But nine years ago, we all pushed our differences aside to show everyone what we could do as a country. We showed everyone that we had a backbone of steel, and that, when it came down to it, we were a country united. A country that would help and love their fellow citizens, no matter what labels they had.
We need to find that again. We need to find our ability to compromise and agree again, our ability to work together. Because when it comes down to it, we're Americans. The other categories don't matter when we all want the country to succeed. When we look first at our similarities, our differences are less important.
To those who lost their lives and loved ones in 9/11, we have not forgotten. We will never forget. To those who are still here, I leave you with this quote:
"I know that there is strength in the differences between us. And I know there is comfort where we overlap." -Ani DiFranco
Let's find the strength and comfort in the country again.