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What did I learn on 9/11? Not much, really. While that’s the “hook” for the post, it’s not what I mean. You see, I didn’t learn these things on 9/11. I knew them all along. 9/11 let me see them clearly.
My pastor teaches character is not developed by adversity. Rather, it is revealed by it! In the midst of crises, we respond, not from platitudes but from what is truly anchored in our character. What I saw on and after 9/11 tells me America is still the beacon of hope in an increasingly hopeless world.
I learned I’m proud to be an American. Some apologize for being from the US. I do not. We are not a perfect people. But neither are we the caricature of arrogance embraced by so many. Each man gets to choose which picture of “American” he holds: the arrogant American or the good neighbor. There’s a reason I choose the latter.
That reason is the Americans who ran into doomed buildings. Not without thought for his own safety. What rational person does not think of the consequences of doing such a thing. No, he ran into buildings despite concerns for himself.
These weren’t merely policemen and firemen; they were American policemen and firemen. As such, they considered the consequences of not doing such a thing. And then they acted, and in most cases, died as Americans have for over 200 years. This behavior, while not expected or demanded, is emblematic. They were not exceptional Americans. They were regular, ordinary Americans.
I learned Americans do the right thing. Some will disagree, pointing to schemes – by a few – to bilk the many of their money with fake charities. They see corruption and selfishness as the norm. I see generosity so vast it became the target of thieves.
Others dropped everything; putting life and business on hold, got in their vehicles and went to New York. Where they would stay, how they would live, what would happen to all they left behind were important questions but not as important as the singular question burning in their hearts, “How can I not do this?”
I learned America is the color blind melting pot I had been taught it was. New York is the quintessential picture of “diversity.” In the towers that day were men and women; young and old; handicapped and able-bodied; black, white and every shade in between; Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists; rich and poor; Republicans, Democrats and Independents; married and single; gay and straight – Americans. The death that came for them didn’t discriminate and neither did the nation that came to them.
The selflessness that erupted from each corner of America defies explanation if we are a nation of bigots. Bigotry unfortunately exists in our midst. But it is not the norm. It does not define us. We are Americans.
I learned, left to the dictates of their values, Americans make the right choices. Whether giving their time, their money or their lives, the sacrifices made were not driven by government policy or triggered by departmental regulation. The selflessness flowed from the individual character of countless Americans, because they held the values that truly define our nation.
No government agency or political party compelled Americans to act as they did. It was character, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, that did so. It was respect for the basic right of every man, endowed on them by a loving and merciful Creator, to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness that did so. It was alliance with the values of those attending the birth of our nation, mutually pledging to each other lives, fortunes and sacred honor that did so.
I learned being an American is an honorable thing. I learned generosity and sacrifice, while not in short supply around the world, is only enshrined in the foundation of one country; mine. I learned that I am not alone. Not only am I surrounded by millions of these marvelous creatures known as Americans, I am preceded by millions more. This godly and glorious character, quietly lived out hour by hour and day by day in anonymity around the country and displayed in moments of crisis is my birthright. I have been taught and brought to such a time as this born on the wings of sacrifice and generosity offered up daily for 235 years.
I am an American. That is a good thing. That is what I learned …