Fifteen years ago today, the world most Americans thought we lived in came crashing to the ground.
Fifteen years ago today, nineteen agents of an entity that had sworn to bring fire and death to the United States succeeded in that mission. They struck the heart of our commercial power, struck the heart of our military power, attempted to strike the heart of our government. In the space of a few hours, they roused us out of a complacent stupor and reminded us that we still had enemies in the world. In the space of a few hours, they showed us just how thin a shield protected us from those who would do us harm.
For better or worse, our world changed that day. War came to our shores, a war we didn’t recognize we were fighting until we watched the towers crumble to dust with three thousand of our neighbors–they were all our neighbors that day–inside.
We made decisions, each of us and all of us, that day and the days that followed. Many of them were the right decisions. Others were wrong. Thousands of Americans, and tens of thousands of people around the world, have died as a direct or indirect result of the decisions we made after our enemies attacked us. Many of those deaths were for the right reasons. Others, not so.
Fifteen years on, we have continued to make good decisions and bad. How can we do otherwise? We are a nation of humans, well-meaning but flawed, who consent to be governed by humans, well-meaning but flawed. Humans who have, I think, made more right decisions than wrong over the almost two and a half centuries of our national history. Humans who, on balance, recognize when we’ve made a wrong decision and begin working to make it right.
That trend helps me see today as a day for hope. That trend makes me think of today as much more than just a day to remember the attack. Because I saw what we became that day; I saw the best of the U.S.A. as we came together to help each other any way we could.
And most of what I have seen since that day, most of what I’ve seen when I really made the effort to look past sensationalist news headlines and manufactured divisions, gives me hope.
Because when I see Americans shouting at each other, I see Americans who love their country shouting at other Americans who love their country and who disagree on how we should best move forward. When Americans wave flags at each other, the flags are so often all the same colors.
Because when I see hate directed from one group to another, I also see members of both groups coming together to help each other or to help some others who need it.
Because when Americans are in trouble, their neighbors don’t ask their race or religion or country of origin; they just step up and help.
I see hope around the world, too. Much as I love Americans, I can’t deny the courage of other humans.
Because when terrorists or storms or earthquakes or diseases devastate an area, Americans are only some of the people who flood in to help the survivors.
Because not only Americans, but Muslims and Christians and Jews from all over the Middle East and Central Asia have stood before the Islamic State and announced you will go no farther.
Because fair and free trade has exploded all over the world, bringing previously-unimagined levels of prosperity to every continent, and the prosperity continues to spread.
Because AIDS and malaria, two of the greatest killers remaining since the eradication of smallpox, are on the decline worldwide.
Because more and more, people choose love and generosity and courage over hate and fear.
Our world, and our country, still have many problems to overcome. There are many, many wrong decisions we could still make. There are still many who would destroy us if they could, simply because we believe differently than they do. But I look at the world today and compare it with the world of fifteen years ago, and I think we just may be on the right path. A rocky, difficult path, to be sure, but the right one.
And that gives me hope today.