It's hard to believe it happened. It's even harder to believe that such evil and hatred exist, that a few extremists can hate us - a people, a country, an ideal - so much. The unimaginable horrors of the morning of September 11, 2001 did happen, forever changing us in ways we hadn't envisioned when we awakened that beautiful September morning. The terrorists created victims, but they also created heroes, people who summoned courage they didn't know they had, and they renewed the spirit, compassion, and unity that characterize the United States of America.
I was working from home that day. My phone rang earlier than usual, and my friend Susan asked urgently if my television was on. I said no, and Susan told me to turn it on. I asked what channel. She told me it didn't matter. I turned on NBC to become yet another witness to the tragedy at the World Trade Center after the first plane had slammed into it. The anchors improvised, giving voice to our thoughts, trying desperately to figure out what was happening - before the second plane crashed in New York and before the World Trade Center towers crumbled.
Everything unfolded over just a few hours, and we knew our country was being attacked. Innocent citizens were dying at their office desks, in stairwells, getting breakfast - doing the normal things we do every day. Men and women were saying goodbye to their loved ones; they knew they were going to die. To this day, it breaks my heart to imagine those phone calls, to imagine making a choice of jumping to avoid burning to death. To struggle to breathe, to struggle to live. People were dying in New York; they were dying at the Pentagon; and they died in Pennsylvania.
We cried. Most of us could do little but watch and wait. We were sad - our grief was palpable. We were afraid and angry. We didn't understand such hatred, and we still don't. As we realized the full impact of what had happened, we were inspired by the many acts of heroism that day. To this day, every time I see a firefighter, I think about September 11. First responders ran toward the fire, not away. Many of them perished.
Locally, we watched as the horrific events unfolded in New York. Suddenly, Northern Virginia became part of a tragic mosaic when the Pentagon was attacked. In McLean, Virginia, Isaac Ho'opi'i and his German Shepherd Vito received the report that American Airlines Flight 77 had crashed into the Pentagon. He raced to the scene. He was one of the first rescue officers onsite, beginning what would be a grueling, 72-hour, round-the-clock search and rescue mission through the wreckage of the plane and building. Isaac led people to safety that day. He and Vito saved lives. He also saw unspeakable things. Isaac was just one of many who put others first on September 11 and for days and weeks after.
Our country was being attacked. We listened to the news as word of scrambled jets and shoot-to-kill orders circulated. We were scared. One of my friends living near the CIA spent her day fearing death. I spent hours on the phone, trying to assure her that her house was far enough away - that she would live even if there were more victims. I was lying. I had no idea what would happen. None of us did.
We were inspired by the heroes that day, that week. Later we honored the dead. We tried to help the injured. We gave money, blood, food - whatever we could do - to help families in need of help. We would have turned back the clock if it had been possible, but it wasn't. It was unbelievable. We went to war - a war that seems detached today from its original purpose - dividing us instead of uniting us in our desire to end terrorism, to ensure that our citizens - and citizens of the world - cannot be attacked with such brutality ever again.
Today, we will stop and remember the day everything changed. There will be formal ceremonies in New York, at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville. Most of us won't attend a formal ceremony, but all of us will observe the day and remember. We will watch television, go to church, read and watch the news, or quietly reflect on the day, the victims, the heroes, the courage, the families, the loss, the symbols. We will renew our resolve. It will be emotional as we relive the horror of September 11, 2001. Although 10 years have passed, it seems like yesterday.
Today, my hope for our country is that we can renew the compassion, community, and unity that characterized us in the days and weeks after September 11, 2001. In our darkest hours, we saw the best America had to offer. Wouldn't it be a beautiful world if every day we, every American citizen, every citizen of the world, were the best we can be? That resolve for unity must come from within, but we can make it an expectation - for ourselves and our leaders. It may be our best way to honor those who perished on September 11.