Most people can tell you what they were doing on September 11, 2001. The images of the airplanes crashing into the Twin Towers were impossible to escape. I remember my father calling me to his room where the television was on. I sadly remember watching in “real-time” the collapse of the South Tower. I had never been to New York, but watching the South Tower collapse left me absolutely cold. I felt that my own house was in that pile of rubble.
That day marked a new era not only for Americans, but for the rest of the world as well. Today it will be 12 years since our lives changed forever. In those 12 years, a lot has changed in our country and in the world. Today our country is incredibly politically divided, to the point that we are breaking it. Let us go back to the years that followed 9/11 when we came together as a country and we came back stronger than we were before. We showed the world how resilient the United States of America can be. I sadly think that we have forgotten about those days.
This post is not about politics; it is simply about acceptance and the spirit of our country. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. Let me say this: If you have served a day in any branch of the military, you must visit the Memorial. If anyone you knew gave their life for this country downrange post 9/11, you must visit it. If you are a regular citizen of this country, you should visit it. This place represents the beginning of the events that changed our lives, and we [as citizens] had no control over those events.
Like everyone that has been in combat over long periods of time, I have lost Brothers-in-Arms who gave their life for our country. Some of them were closer to me than others, but nonetheless, being alive and well gives you a feeling of guilt from time to time. As TACPs, we often think ourselves immortal due to the power and weight we hold on the battlefield. We forget that a lucky shot from some asshole can prevent you from coming home. That guilt is a terrible thing to carry; it prevents you from living fully. For many years I carried the death of my Brothers-in-Arms. I also carried some of the things that I have done in the heat of combat that have been less than moral, but necessary to do my job. I am not justifying the means, but when it comes down to it and it’s the bad guys or us, I am going to choose us every time. I spent many nights thinking about all of that – in a way letting the enemy win the battle on the home front. But when I visited the 9/11 Memorial, something incredible happened.
As I approached Manhattan for the first time, I felt anxious. I could barely contain the tears on my face as I stood in line to get my ticket for the Memorial. Once I got it, I had to walk a few blocks to get to a security checkpoint that made airport security look like a joke. The line was long, and as that slow and tedious pace in a sea of people brought me closer to the Memorial, I could feel my heart pounding in my chest harder and harder. Through the fence, I could make out parts of the Memorial. Once I crossed through that final gate, I dropped to my knees and started crying like never before. Once I was able to gain composure, I witnessed the greatness of this place – it is my hallowed ground.
I stood in front of the North Tower Memorial for a bit, but I felt that the South Tower Memorial was calling me so I levitated toward it. And there I stood for a while as the silence of that place brought me a peace that I have not felt in a long time. I was able to drop all that baggage I have carried over the years. I realized that I could keep the memory of the people that I have lost in my head, without it interfering in my life. I gave them a place where I can remember them for who they were and what they have done without guilt. This happened because I was able to accept that there was nothing I could have done to prevent their death, and that I had no control over the events that took our country to war. But, there are other things that I realized in a moment of clarity.
I am the kind of person who prefers to do community service rather than going to church. For years I rejected the idea of any type of spirituality. But spirituality is not exclusive to religion, but rather something that you believe in times of crisis. To some, that might be a verse from the Bible. To me, it’s my family. I realize that as citizens of the world, religion is something that divides us, but spirituality also brings us together. A clear example of that was 9/11. We came together as a country to come out on top from the actions that inflicted so much pain and harm to our fellow Americans.
Today, on this anniversary of 9/11, I invite you to take a moment to reflect on the American spirit: To realize that regardless of our political, cultural, social and religious beliefs, we owe it to ourselves to make a difference. To remember that we serve each other and that rather than complaining about our current situation as a country, try to do something about it. To impact our communities to whatever extent we are able to do so. I invite you to accept that there are things that we cannot control, but we can control the way we react to them.
This post is dedicated to all the families affected by 9/11 and to all those Warriors who gave all for the noblest cause – freedom.