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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Sept. 11 should be day of renouncing fear

The day the World Trade Center was attacked remains undefined in the American consciousness. Six years after one of the most horrific days in our nation’s history, Americans have yet to resolve the depth of Sept. 11’s impact on our national identity.

An indicator that we continue to grapple with the tragic event’s shock to the national psyche is that there is still no unified understanding of how the day should be marked.

Americans know what to do on Independence Day, Memorial Day and Election Day. We even have traditional ways of spending Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Those days are well delineated.

But I do not know what to do on Sept. 11, a day so unlike any other national day of honor we have not dared to christen it with a name. It stands stark and stripped. It is 9/11. That is all. There is no “day” that follows. Perhaps we intuitively understand that to give the day a name would heighten the risk that it may evolve into a holiday, and that it can never be.

So I wonder, how should we honor the date? What should the day involve? What should the day signify?

I have personally struggled with how to recognize the sixth anniversary of 9/11.

Surely it is a day of remembrance for the thousands of innocent Americans who lost their lives. And so there will be ceremonies, moments of silence, the tolling of bells, and the laying of wreaths. That is all proper and fitting.

Surely, too, it is a day of reflection as Americans wrestle with the wound inflicted on us as a nation. So there will be discussions and editorials, addresses and prayers, and all that is proper and fitting, as well.

But I have concluded that Sept. 11 should be more than a day of reverent commemoration. It should be more than the media’s repeated showings of the monstrous and cowardly act; more than dramatic accounts of the countless feats of heroism that took place as ash and smoke filled the New York skyline.

Sept. 11 should be a day of not only remembrance and reflection, but a day of response. It should be a day of defiance. It should be a day on which every one us stands up and shakes a fist.

Terrorists attacked American civilians who were simply going about their daily business on Sept. 11 for the sole purpose of instilling fear within us.

Sept. 11 should be a day when we proclaim they failed.

It should be a day when we renounce fear. When we announce to the world that we will not cower. We will not lead our lives afraid.

About a year after the towers fell, a friend told me she had never been so afraid as she was the weeks following the attack. She was afraid for her children and for the world they would inherit.
Her fear has subsided somewhat since, but it has not vanished. It’s still there, lingering, smoldering. And it rears its ugly head every time the Department of Homeland Security ratchets up its terror alert from yellow to orange.

Sept. 11 should stand as a day for my friend and all Americans to confront and banish their fear.

Sept. 11 should serve as a reminder not only of what happened that day but also as a reminder that Americans will not forego the rights and privileges we have spent more than 200 years fighting to secure.

At the core of our founding principles is the right to live without fear. We shall not be afraid to speak; we shall not be afraid to worship; we shall not be afraid to assemble.

Living in fear is un-American.

We have taken to battlefields and to our own streets so that we do not have to live in fear and on Sept. 11 we should remember that, too.

That’s what I intend to remind myself again and again on Sept. 11.

The terrorists failed.

As an American, I will not live in fear. I refuse to. And now there is a day on which I will reaffirm that conviction to the world.

That day is Sept. 11.

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