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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11 Anniversary Speech: “Today, We Remember”

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

“Time is passing. Yet, for the United States of America, there will be no forgetting September the 11th. We will remember every rescuer who died in honor. We will remember every family that lives in grief. We will remember the fire and ash, the last phone calls, the funerals of the children. “
“Now, we have inscribed a new memory alongside those others. It’s a memory of tragedy and shock, of loss and mourning. It’s also a memory of bravery and self-sacrifice, and the love that lays down its life for a friend–even a friend whose name it never knew. “
- President George W. Bush, December 11, 2001

These words, spoken by President Bush, will be echoed by many this day. Nine years ago, in the space of 2 hours, the world was changed; our nation was changed; we were changed. 9/11 has become a watershed event in history, defining two separate worlds – the one before, and the one after. On that day, we were ripped from a world of the safe and familiar and plunged into another world; a world of dark uncertainty; a world dominated by shock, pain, horror…and fear. Our senses at first refused to accept the reality of the images transmitted to us, desperately hoping that the disaster unfolding before our eyes was a Hollywood concoction, or perhaps just a bad dream.

For Americans, the attacks were more than the sum total of damage and loss of life. Collectively, our myth of invincibility, our illusion of invulnerability, our delusion of safety was shattered.

But in the midst of that tragic day, a great light emerged. The darkness was dispelled, illuminating this nation from border to border and sea to sea. We, the people of the United States found our unity. For a few brief, precious moments in time, we stood shoulder to shoulder; arm in arm. We spoke with one voice. We felt with one heart.

And the world stood back in awe.

Today, we remember.

We remember the shock, the sorrow, and yes, the anger we felt that morning.
We remember the loss of innocent lives.
Today, we remember the flames rising from the Pentagon;
We remember two mighty towers vanishing in roiling clouds of smoke and dust.
And today, we remember a plume of smoke rising from this Pennsylvania field.

But today, we also remember those moments when we reached out to each other and found comfort, discovering the truth that in the face of a shared tragedy, there is no such word as “stranger.” A French newspaper proclaimed that day that “We Are All Americans.” On 9/11, we Americans proved that we are truly “family.”

For Pennsylvanians, like New Yorkers and the folks at the Pentagon, 9/11 is a personal memory, although it certainly could be said that, for Americans, everything that happened that day was personal. Because of those personal memories, today is especially meaningful.

Today, we set aside the demands of our separate lives; today, we gather together in this place to remember the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93; people, who when confronted with the face of terror and the threat of death, set aside their fears, and acted with extraordinary courage. They embodied the words of President Reagan, when he said, “They counted on America to be passive. They counted wrong.”

The passengers and crew of Flight 93 are often called “ordinary Americans.” Although clearly, their actions belie the term “ordinary,” the word refers more to what they were when they boarded the aircraft that morning. Had the attacks never happened, they likely would have lived the rest of their lives in total anonymity. We don’t expect heroic acts out of someone we might brush past on the street, just another face in the crowd. However, the history of America is replete with accounts of ordinary people who faced the danger and chose to act; people who realized that the task set before them was larger than their fear.

However, to their loved ones, they were far from ordinary.

They were husbands and wives, loved and adored by their spouses.

They were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, grandfathers and grandmothers, cherished by their families.

And they were fathers and mothers, loved and idolized by their children.

Before they were heroes to us, they were already heroes to them.

To lose a loved one through an inconceivable act of violence has to be one of the most painful experiences a human can endure. There never seems to be a satisfactory answer to the question: “why?” All we know is that one moment they were there, and then they were gone. There are no answers, only the overwhelming feeling of loss. Washington Irving once wrote,

“There is sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.
They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.
They are messengers of overwhelming grief;
and unspeakable love.”

Life is fragile; the future an ever-shifting fog that defies predictability. One of the hard truths of that life is that what we take for granted today may vanish without a trace tomorrow. I’m certain there were many loved ones who parted that morning swept up in the routine of what they thought was just another work day, having no idea at all that it would, in fact, be the last day. We share their heartache. But I don’t think any one of us can fully comprehend the depth of their loss. Grief is a journey; a difficult, yet cathartic path, strewn with rocks and potholes, but a path that must be traveled. There are no shortcuts or bypasses on the route to healing.

To the families of these forty fallen heroes, know that as we today honor their courage, we also honor yours. Grief is not only a journey; it is a burden, one not meant to be borne in the relentless glare of the public eye. The uncommon grace and dignity with which you have borne this burden has deeply touched and inspired us all.

Our prayers are always with you; our hearts will ever ache for you; and as you continue to walk that path of healing, know that you will never walk alone. We are always with you, bound by a solemn promise; that sacred oath: That we will never forget.

Over the past few years, several hundred thousand people annually have found their way to this Flight 93 temporary memorial.

They came on warm days in summer, when the sun shone and the grass grew thick and green;

They came on winter days when frigid winds knifed across this valley and every object lay encased in ice or buried in snow.

They came in the crisp air of fall, amid trees ablaze in the breath-taking colors of autumn.

And they came in spring, when the winds blew soft and warm and wildflowers carpeted the field.

They did not make that pilgrimage frivolously. They came to remember.

Regardless of the day, regardless of the weather, the Flight 93 Ambassadors met those visitors with warmth and dignity. They are volunteers, uncommon people who stand here, day in and day out, recounting the story of Flight 93 and the lives of those who were lost. In a simple, heartfelt way, they have become the voices of the fallen. They have helped us all to remember not only the courage of the passengers and crew, but their humanity as well. Through the dedication and commitment of these Ambassadors, the memory of our 40 heroes have been preserved not as abstract faceless names, but in a deeply personal way; as people we might have known; as friends we might have had.

There is in this place a sense of the evocative. It strikes as soon as you crest that steep hill and carefully coast down the pitted and gravelly road. It’s a very simple memorial really, even spartan. However, there is a power in this place. It is not in the design; it’s not in the architecture; it’s not in the landscaping. It is, rather, in the individual commemorations left by the unknown thousands. They are spontaneous offerings, expressions wrenched from tearful faces and aching hearts. Some show the careful craft of a lovingly hand-made object. Other times, merely heart-felt words scribbled on whatever materials were available. In their own way, they speak with eloquence and meaning. They speak in the language of the heart.

When you stand at the edge of this field, empty save for that lone American flag, there is a meditative silence; a silence broken only by the sad sighing of the restless wind that always seems to blow across this valley. Were there no memorial at all, there would still be upon that field and in the voice of the wind the overwhelming feeling that something courageous happened here.

Civil War hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, speaking about the battleground of Gettysburg, said,

“Heroism is latent in every human soul, however humble or unknown.
In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays.
Spirits linger, to consecrate the ground.
And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not,
shall come to this field to ponder and dream;
and the power of the vision will pass into their souls."
--Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

One evening last year, I stood on the crest of a hill known as Little Round Top, south of a Pennsylvania village called Gettysburg. The sun was setting, the western horizon ablaze in shades of brilliant gold. In that quiet moment, a young family came up that hill, stopping nearby. After a long moment of silence, their young child, in a voice soft with curiosity, asked, “Daddy, what happened here?” Her father knelt down, put his arm around her shoulders, and thus, the story was passed to a new generation.

Perhaps a century from now, there will be another moment when another young family stands in this place. The question will be asked, “What happened here?” And another story of courage and sacrifice will be passed forward. The presence of the permanent memorial will ensure that the story of September 11th, 2001 and especially the passengers and crew of Flight 93 will be remembered and passed to the care of future generations. It is so very important that we do this. Already, as the veterans of World War II pass from this life, their stories of heroism from places such as Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Bastogne, and Omaha Beach are fading from our national memory.

9/11 must always remain alive in our thoughts, not just because of the tragedy and the loss of innocent lives; but because of what the events of that day taught us about ourselves.

As the smoke cleared on that terrible day, we learned that although we had been badly wounded, we were not defeated;

We were bowed, but never broken.

And even today, as we face each other across the deep chasm of our political divisions, the memory of 9/11 shows that we still have within us the ability and the desire to stand together in unity; one nation, under God; Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Today, we commemorate September 11th, 2001. To the eyes of the world, to the hearts of our fellow Americans, and to the grace and the love of Almighty God do we commit the memory of those who were lost and their families who grieve still.

Today, we perform this most important act of commemoration:

Today…We Remember.
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