On a beautiful Tuesday morning eighteen years ago, the world changed. Let us honor the thousands who were killed on the day of the attacks, and the thousands more who are still being killed by the lingering impacts of the toxic dust from Ground Zero. The best way to honor them is by heeding the lessons of that turning point in our nation and the world.
When I speak with my sons about 9/11, I focus on the stories of individuals, people they know and people they can connect with. We talk about how this most horrible, violent, and hateful act could inspire the most generous, loving, and heroic response.
I took my boys to the 9/11 memorial and museum a couple of years ago. We focused on the stories of the people: the people who ran into the towers; the people who lined up to help with rescue and recovery efforts; the people who lined up to donate blood in hopes that more people would be rescued; the people who died in that field in Pennsylvania, sacrificing themselves to deny the terrorists one more target to destroy that day; and we talk about Arthur Jones, the Ossining dad who never came home to his family, and how we keep his spirit alive every time we visit the park named in his memory.
I think it’s normal for all of us at any age to focus on the very best of humanity that was expressed in the wake of 9/11, rather than the worst of humanity. For a period of time eighteen years ago, we all looked at each other and saw the light and the love that courses through every living being, wherever and whoever they are in this world. And the world looked at America, and they were with us. The world was inspired by us, not because we were attacked, but because of how we as a people responded.
Eighteen years later, we have a whole generation of young people who have no living recollection of that day. They have lived their entire lives in a post 9/11 world.
There are days for me, and perhaps for us all, when I feel angry and despondent that we have failed to heed the lessons of 9/11. And how could any of us not sometimes feel we have failed as a society? But living each day driven by anger and despair is no way to live. And it doesn’t take us to a better place. How can we as people lead America to a place where we are, once again, an inspiration to the rest of the world?
It is my most deeply felt hope that through gatherings like this, and by sharing stories with young people who only know of 9/11 as an historic event, that we can be part of taking America, and the world, in a better direction.
Let us refocus on the greatest lessons of 9/11. Let us foster a world where our children are inspired by the heroic acts, and the profound expressions of humanity that can unite us in a world with greater peace and empathy for people who look different, and worship differently from us.
Eighteen years ago today 19 men hijacked commercial airplanes and turned them into weapons. I say 19 men very deliberately. Let us be careful not to elevate the status of the terrorists to super villains as if they possess powers greater than any other human being. Instead, let us be inspired to acknowledge the power within each of us, and each of our children, and every person in this community, and this nation and this planet to choose love instead of hate, peace instead of violence, empathy instead of ignorance, and action instead of apathy.
This park is filled with people who love their families, their neighbors, and their community so much, they have trained themselves to run toward danger and possibly sacrifice themselves so that we can all be safer. That is exactly the kind of spirit that can inspire this generation and the next to use the power within each of us to achieve greater acts of love, peace, empathy and action.
Thank you to the Ossining and Briarcliff first responders who bring our community together every year for this moving ceremony. Let us all be inspired by the greatest versions of ourselves, the versions we expressed and witnessed eighteen years ago. Thank you for making sure we never forget.