September 11, 2001
Nations, like individuals, must cope. Nations must develop empowerment strategies to help them confront challenges to keep moving forward, or, like poorly coping individuals, they will stagnate and drift aimlessly. In the history of the United States, I see four dates that posed especially harsh challenges to our country, challenges that had to be met and overcome if the country was to survive.
March 4, 1789. A new government under the Constitution — officially ratified on June 21, 1788 — began. This great coping experiment in democracy for the new republic began with three simple but elegant words: “We the People….” What an empowering concept! The experiment, however, was anything but easy out of the gate, and required considerable coping skills from the Founders. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson became bitter political enemies, reconciling only in the twilight of their lives. Ironically, both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Among Adams’ final words were, “Jefferson lives.” Alas, Jefferson had died a few hours earlier.
April 12, 1861. The Civil War– or, depending on your perspective, The War between the States — began. Under the specter of the death of our country, American fought American, brother fought brother until, at the end, estimates say between 620,000 and 750,000 lay dead. These figures are incomprehensible when you realize that in terms of percentage of the US population, the equivalent deaths today would be between 6.5 and 8.1 million. A generation lost to a stupid war.
December 7, 1941. “A date,” FDR reminded us, “which will live in infamy.” Our country galvanized itself, and our parents and grandparents, children of the great depression, prepared to fight two wars simultaneously, one in the Pacific and one in Europe. Faced with annihilation and the end of America, they pulled it off with great effort and sacrifice, and earned their title, “The Greatest Generation.” Those still with us deserve our veneration, as do all veterans, who are the primary coping agents for our country.
September 11, 2001. This horrific day on which nearly 3,000 people died plunged our country into grief and fear. Today, 15 years later, we commemorate the memory of those who lost their lives and those who were connected to the victims through friendship and love. Those of us who endured that terrible day and the uncertain days that followed have many memories seared onto our brains, mostly sad memories, but some that are strangely uplifting.
One of my memories that falls into the uplifting category is watching TV and seeing a fairly large group of legislators from both political parties assemble on the Capitol steps. They were not grouped according to any designation like party, gender, race, ethnicity, or other such divisive nonsense. They were a group of Americans. And then they began singing God Bless America. I was so moved I stood as if I was in the presence of the national anthem. I would have joined them in singing but I was pretty choked up, not only with tears of grief, but also with tears of pride and gratitude for having the great privilege of being a citizen of the United States of America.
And to think, it all began those many years ago with those simple words that continue to remind us that it’s not about me and it’s not about you. It’s about “We the People.”