THE BLOG
09/09/2010 01:04 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Nine Years After 9/11: Will We Ever Be "One" Again?

This September 11th, nine years after that "first" September 11th, there will be -- as there should be -- a lot of reflection on and introspection about that horrific event: how it changed our lives, how it changed America -- forever.

Publications are again asking their readers, "Do you remember where you were that Tuesday morning?" and "What are your memories and reflections nine years later?"

Our nation has been through a lot since 9/11: Two wars with more than 5,600 of our finest dead, natural disasters, an economic disaster, environmental disasters, political disasters, "name-it-disasters."

While our nation was solidly united after the dastardly attack, it wasn't long before bad political decisions, bitter partisanship, fear mongering, mistrust, and even an inability to come together during many of those disasters quickly eroded that unity, that special bond, that common purpose Americans shared immediately after 9/11.

Nikki Stern, a lady whose husband was killed in the 9/11 attacks, a person who -- if anyone -- should have a profoundly personal perspective on the September 11th tragedy, had this to say in a recent USA Today column:

Nine years out, what comes to mind when we read about or talk about or even think about 9/11 is anger or fear or mistrust; all the failures and grievances that have hardened our worldview. We've retreated to our small groups of like-minded people whose absolute certainty enables our own; we see nothing in common with those "others" whose politics, faith, background, or outlook don't match ours. We see no reason to make an effort.

If that's 9/11's legacy, if that's how we honor our dead, our country, or our values, I want no part of it.

Five years after 9/11, in September 2006, I also decided to publicly express my reflections on 9/11 -- my thoughts on how life had changed, how America had changed.

In a letter in Time, I wrote:

Five years after 9/11, our nation ought to be as united as it was on that tragic day. We should have held on to the outpouring of global goodwill and support we received then. We should have remained laser-focused on rooting out and bringing to justice those responsible for the attacks. We should have remained committed to making our homeland more secure.

After 9/11 our nation should have rededicated itself to the Constitution, the rule of law and respect for human and civil rights. Like most Americans, I remember 9/11 with sadness, a sadness that deepens when I think of what our country could have been five years after the day when we were all one.

Four more years have passed since that 9/11 anniversary. It is disheartening that, today, I could replicate that same letter, changing only a few words, a few particulars. For, sadly, America remains deeply and bitterly divided.

The reasons have shifted somewhat: from wars and related national security issues to fundamental disagreements and mistrust on health care, immigration, the economy and other social issues.

Divisions that are fueled and deepened by unprecedented, uncompromising rancor and hostility -- some call it hate -- between Americans of different political and social persuasions, against certain immigrants, against Muslims, against those of a different sexual orientation and even against the president of these "United" States. Uncompromising attitudes that have rendered our nation, our government, our society virtually dysfunctional.

Nevertheless, I have faith in America. I know we will once again come together, as we did "on the day when we were all one."

I share Mrs. Stern's hopes that perhaps this 9th anniversary of 9/11 will finally begin to bring forth a new, fresh legacy for our country:

I don't know whether or when this nation, its leaders or its citizens, might be willing to dial back the outrage and stow the self-serving grandstanding. Maybe we can start with Sept. 11, on which day we can spend more time and energy commemorating the spirit that once brought forth our better selves and bonded us in common purpose.

That's a legacy I would embrace as a far more fitting tribute to those who were killed than any memorial I can imagine.