On this September 11, I think of:
...where I was that day (Penn State), and the class I was in (New Testament, with a rather hostile professor who shut down someone who came into the room to try to tell us the news), and then the rest of the day spent in front of the TV when we realized the gravity of the situation. I remember reading "We're all ok here at CUA" on a friend's AOL Instant Messenger profile, as I had recently transferred schools from Catholic University in DC.
...the fallen––on Flight 93, at the Pentagon, in the towers and on the planes. Their sacrifices are not forgotten and their memories will live on eternally. I think the new "Tower of Voices" wind chimes at the Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania are an especially appropriate remembrance, and I look forward to visiting the place in person. I also want to go back to the 9/11 memorial just outside the Pentagon, which I found to be one of the most strikingly understated and contemplation-inducing and beautiful memorials I've ever seen.
...the President's "bullhorn moment" three days later, and the 60 Minutes story that came out a couple years later walking through his experience of that day. While I later came to realize that many of our government's actions (and particularly his administration's policies) and military decisions that rippled outward from 9/11 were misguided, in those first few days George W. Bush provided the kind of strong and steady leadership we needed.
...the countless people I know who have served in our military and emergency services and in so many other ways on that day and since, many of whom were inspired to service by the horror of 9/11. I am thankful for everyone who responds to tragedy by self-sacrificial service. That spirit of service is one of the best parts of this country; when we serve, we make America great, and 9/11 brought out the finest in so many people for so many years. I know people who served in the background, in secret, and in thankless and forgotten jobs to try to keep me and my loved ones safe, and I am so grateful.
...the wise words of my professor (and, really, mentor) Paul Barsom within those first days, in which he immediately understood and foresaw the context of the attacks and the risks in how the nation was already misunderstanding what would later be called the War on Terror. It took me longer to catch up, but it's become clearer and clearer to me that we only perpetuate a cycle of violence when we assume that we are locked in a great West vs. East (or Christian vs. Radical Islam) battle with a foe who "hates freedom" or "our way of life." There are many bin Laden-type people out there who do in fact despise us... but it's much more complicated than simple-and-pure evil; we have to go back and study our own nation's actions and their unintended consequences. It's easy to forget that (like Ho Chi Minh, and like Saddam Hussein) the rich Saudi heir Osama bin Laden was the United States' ally (with the Mujahideen in what for us was sort of a proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan) before he was our enemy. We (the USA) have a lot to answer for in our recent history, and it's not right for us to keep sending our brave (and often poor) young military recruits to fight and die in wars which are ill-informed and partially profit-driven. We've got to do better at thinking through the long-term implications of our foreign entanglements.
May God bless the United States of America, and may we learn from the hard lessons of a terrible day.
More about the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial: https://washington.org/dc-guide-to/pentagon-memorial