On this 9/11, like every 9/11, I’m thinking about my friend Davis, who I grew up with in Delaware. On this day, 20 years ago, he and his family had just past the first year without the youngest of their three sons, Teddy, who died in a boating accident at the age of 13.
His eldest son, Davis Jr., was just six days into a new job on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Davis went straight to Ground Zero to search for his son. They searched deep into the last inning of hope, as he put it.
A few days later, I spoke with Davis, and talked as fathers who know. I was on my way to speak to students at the University of Delaware about what to make of the new world we were in. He told me to tell people, ‘Don’t be afraid”
The absolute courage it took after two unimaginable losses is extraordinary, yet the most ordinary of American things. To know life can be unfair and uncertain. A cruel twist of accident, or a deliberate act of evil. But even in darkness, to still be the light.
To the families of the 2,977 people from more than 90 nations killed on September 11, 2001, in New York City, Arlington, Virginia, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the thousands more that were injured, America and the world commemorate you and your loved ones
We honor all those who risked and gave their lives in the minutes, hours, months, and years afterward. The firefighters, the police officers, EMTs and construction workers, and doctors and nurses, faith leaders, service members, veterans, and all of the everyday people who gave their all to rescue, recover, and rebuild.
But it’s so hard, whether it’s the first year or the 20th. Children have grown up without parents, and parents have suffered without children. Husbands and wives have had to find ways forward without their partners in their life with them, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts who have had to celebrate birthdays, milestones with holes in their hears. No matter how much time has passed, these commemorations bring everything painfully back as if you just got the news a few seconds ago.
On this day, Jill and I hold you close in our hearts and send you our love. We hope that 20 years later the memory of your beloved brings a smile to your lips even while still bringing a tear to your eye.
There are people around the world who you’ll never know who are suffering through their own losses, who see you and your courage. Your courage gives them courage that they too can get up and keep going.
In the days that followed September 11th 2001, we saw heroism everywhere. We also saw something all too rare: a true sense of national unity. Unity and resilience – a capacity to recover and repair in the face of trauma. Unity in service – the 9/11 generation stepping up to serve and protect in the face of terror to get those terrorists responsible, to show everyone seeking to do harm to America that we will hunt you down and make you pay. That will never stop, today, tomorrow, ever, from protecting America.
Yet we also witnessed darker forces of human nature. Fear and anger, resentment and violence against Muslim Americans, true and faithful followers of a peaceful religion. We saw a national unity bend. We learned that unity is the one thing that must never break. Unity is what makes us who we are: America at its best.
To me, that’s the central lesson of September 11, is that at our most vulnerable, in the push and pull of all that makes us human, and the battle for the soul of America, unity is our greatest strength
Unity doesn’t mean we have to believe the same thing. But we must have a fundamental respect and faith in each other, and in this nation
We are unique in the history of the world because we are the only nation based on an idea. An idea that everyone is created equal and should be treated equally throughout their lives. That is the task before us. To once again lead not just by the example of our power but through the power of our example. And I know we can.
For I know hope is not an expectation, hope is a conviction. Hope allows us to act with courage. To honor those we lost 20 years ago , and those who have given their whole souls to the cause of this nation everyday since. To act and build a future – not a reactionary one based on fear – but a future of promise, strength and grace worthy of their dreams and sacrifice. To keep the faith that while life is fragile, it is truly something wonderful.
We find strength in the broken places, as Hemingway wrote. We find light in the darkness. We find purpose to repair, renew and rebuild. And as my friend told me that September, 20 years ago, we must not be afraid.