OPINION: A time when we really felt a connection

Think back to eight years ago today, Sept. 13, 2001. What were you feeling? What thoughts were running through your mind about your family, neighbors, community, state and nation in the wake of the calamity of two days before?
If you’re like most Americans at the time, you felt connected as rarely before, especially if you hadn’t experienced monumental national trials like the Great Depression and World War II. Your horizons had broadened. New Yorkers, all of a sudden, seemed like home folks. All the trivial and even significant divisions in our nation had, for a moment, evaporated.
Some were united by rage and the desire for revenge, but more were simply stalwart in their determination that this horrible event and its perpetrators wouldn’t diminish our nation’s will and resiliency, that fear would not rule, that our fallen and suffering fellow citizens and their families would not be forgotten. We were willing to do what was needed of us, for the good of the whole. In this national tragedy we felt a unity – and a concern for each other – rarely if ever felt in ordinary times.
So there was a sense of national solidarity. But there was also a more personal element for most of us.
As we watched the horror unfold in New York, Washington and that field in Pennsylvania, and as we witnessed nearly 3,000 innocent lives lost in an unthinkable way, and as we heard the stories of last-minute communications and expressions of love among family members, we couldn’t help but be confronted with the question: What really matters? What in life is most important?
At home the night of Sept. 11, 2001, I know that I looked at my family in a different way.
Then there were the heroes – the firefighters and police, the passengers on United Flight 93, the other unsung bearers of mercy and compassion on that Tuesday and the days that followed. Many of them died trying to save others.
There, for us to see, was another lesson in life we so often forget: There is nobility in living for others. There is contentment in a life of service beyond self. There are some things worth dying for.
And of course, there was the politics. The nation united behind its president. Republicans and Democrats quit grandstanding for a while and put the good of the nation first. For a brief period, statesmanship ruled and political differences were seen in the proper perspective – as matters for serious debate, but not as determinants of whether we were “real Americans” are not.
The most commonly repeated phrase in the days and weeks following Sept. 11 was: “Everything has changed.” At least some of it seemed for the good.

Lessons learned?
Eight years later, we are still fighting two wars that grew out of that day. It didn’t take long for old political divisions to return with a vengeance, and they seem as pronounced now as ever. Our institutions, political and economic, went back after a while to looking out mostly for themselves and we resisted any real demands on us for personal or national sacrifice – except, of course, for those who went to war, and their families.
Do we remember the lessons of Sept. 11? Not the national security lessons, the need to be vigilant against a new kind of enemy bent on mass murder. Rather, the lessons about our connections as a people and nation, as communities, as families, friends and neighbors – the lessons that both shape what is personally most important to us and that make us strong as a country.
We are not each other’s enemies, as the overheated rhetoric of our current political debate sometimes suggests. Our destinies are connected. Our concerns should extend beyond our own personal comfort and condition.
Our closest connections, with our families, friends and neighbors, must be nourished and valued, because they are the foundation for everything else, the initial extension beyond ourselves that gives us the strength to reach out in a much wider way.
“E pluribus unum” – “Out of many, one.” That’s our national motto. We lived it for a short while after Sept. 11. Does it resonate now?

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@djournal.com.

Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal