What does it mean to #NeverForget?
by Carey Kight
Today marks nineteen years since the deadliest terrorist attack in human history.
On September 11th, 2001, I was thirteen years old. In eighth grade. Miss Cheetham’s third period art class. My dad was in DC on business. Right down the street from the Pentagon. I called him from the classroom’s landline. Busy. Called my mom. She was worried. Couldn’t get a hold of him. He finally called. He was safe. He had rented a car and was driving home to Ohio. He drove overnight. We met him in the driveway the next morning.
He was tired.
We all were.
If you’re anything like me, your memories of that day are like that: they come in bursts, chunks, flashing images.
What’s also likely is that you’re not like me: your memories, your experiences, your feelings are different from mine.
I spent the next five years watching the War on Terror unfold on television, and I spent the four years after participating in it.
I enlisted in the Air Force right out of high school. Though I was certainly patriotic, like many American teenagers, I simply wasn’t ready for college, and the military provides an excellent opportunity to get ready for whatever’s next.
For some, that service is just a four-year stint. For others, it becomes a career. For all of us, it’s a practical education in what makes an American an American.
As an airman, I spent a year in Texas and three years in England. I deployed twice to Afghanistan and participated in NATO operations throughout Europe, including war games with our allies in Belgium, Sweden, and Romania.
I served with men and women from almost every state and territory with varying ethnicities and sexual orientations. I served with poor folks, rich folks, and middle-class folks. Every political ideology was represented. Beers were had. Arguments were made. Sometimes, minds were even changed. It was the opposite of a bubble.
There’s a cliche that gets thrown around the military: “One Team. One Fight.” It’s a cliche because it’s true. As members of mission-focused organizations with timeless core values, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines have a privilege other Americans simply don’t have. We don’t get to ignore one another’s differences. We contend directly with them, we learn to embrace them, and we get better because of them.
As Americans, it’s easy to focus on what divides us, especially in 2020. Part of that ease comes from the difficulty of what tends to unite us. That is often tragedy, or rather, our response to tragedy.
How we respond to the events in our lives shapes our understanding of them and their impact far more than the events themselves. That’s why we remember. That’s why we #NeverForget the collective trauma we experienced as a nation nineteen years ago: So we can regain clarity, put ourselves in a productive emotional state, and take action.
On Wednesday, September 12, 2001, we stepped up, and we looked for ways to make a difference in one another’s lives. Our military mobilized for war, our first responders continued rescuing and cleaning up, and our civilians went back to work and school. The next weekend, we went back to churches and stadiums. But we didn’t do those things in isolation. We all hugged one another a little tighter. We felt more united, somehow felt more secure, and definitely felt more American.
Whether it’s international terrorism, domestic terrorism, racial injustice, or anything else in the long line of difficult things our country has endured, an active and engaged citizenry must #NeverForget who we are. Every day is an opportunity to live a life worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf, and to remember what James Baldwin told his nephew: “This is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become.”