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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.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Speech: "Today, We Remember"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

“Today, We Remember”
Ten years ago today, the world was changed; our nation was changed; we were changed.  We were ripped from a world of the safe and familiar and plunged into another; a world of dark uncertainty; a world of shock, pain, horror…and fear.  

But out of the darkness of that tragic day, a great light emerged, illuminating this nation from border to border and sea to sea.  We, the people of the United States found our unity.  We stood together; 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.

But we also remember how we reached out to each other and found comfort, discovering that in the face of shared tragedy, there is no such word as “stranger.”  On 9/11, we Americans proved that we were still “family.”

Today we gather upon this field of honor. 

We 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 unity and extraordinary courage. 

They boarded the aircraft that morning as ordinary folks.  People from everyday backgrounds; neighbors we might have known; friends we might have had.  Had the attacks never happened, they likely would have lived out the rest of their lives in total anonymity.  But when the challenge arose, these ordinary people made an extraordinary choice. 

The history of America is replete with accounts of such ordinary people; those who faced 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 to an 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?”  There is only the overwhelming feeling of loss. 

Life is fragile; the future an ever-shifting fog that defies predictability.  I’m certain there were many 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 Flight 93, 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.  And as you continue to walk that path of healing, know that you will never be alone.  We walk with you, bound by a solemn promise; that sacred oath:  “We will never forget.”

The courage and unity of the passengers and crew resonated deeply across the land.  Almost from the beginning, before there was even the idea of a memorial, people came here by the hundreds of thousands.  

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

They came on winter days in the face of frigid winds; when 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. 

In their wake lay thousands of individual commemorations; spontaneous expressions, shaped in respect and love.  With eloquence and meaning, they speak in the language of the heart.

This place is wrapped in a meditative silence, broken only by the somber sighing of the restless wind.  Were there no memorial at all, there would still be upon this field and in the voice of the wind the overwhelming feeling that something courageous happened here.

Civil War hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, speaking 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."

One evening, I stood on the battleground of Gettysburg, at the crest of a hill called Little Round Top.  The sun was setting, the western horizon aglow in shades of purple and brilliant gold.  In that quiet moment, a young family came up the 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 of courage and sacrifice was passed to a new generation. 

Perhaps a century from now, another young family will stand in this place.  The question will again be asked, “What happened here?”  And another story of courage and sacrifice will be told. 

This memorial will ensure that the story of September 11th, 2001 will be remembered and passed to the care of future generations.  It is so very important that we do this.  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, 9/11 proved that together, we can still find that uniquely American sense of unity; that we can stand together; “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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