This 9/11 Anniversary, Build a Worthy and Enduring Legacy

09/07/2011 10:03 am ET | Updated Nov 07, 2011

As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, as with every previous anniversary, we find ourselves once again trying to make sense of that unprecedented event; once more trying to find a fitting and worthy way to commemorate the tragic anniversary. Most importantly, we are still poignantly reminded of the unfathomable grief and pain that thousands experienced on that day, and probably forever after, but also of the bravery, sacrifice and selflessness displayed by so many others rescuing, helping, comforting or just praying for their fellow human beings.

But while the pain of those who were directly affected by the tragedy will never go away, and while we'll never forget the heroism and dedication of others, it is amazing how many of those whose lives were forever changed that day have gone on--sometimes against all odds---to make their lives more meaningful, to dedicate the rest of their lives to family, service, country, God.

Perhaps one of the most touching and pertinent testament to such is given by USA TODAY in their recent "How 9/11 Changed America----A life-altering day of loss."

In this story we read about seven such Americans to whom 9/11 was "like a rock thrown into the pond, its impact rippling out until all the water is roiled."

We read about a seriously burned Pentagon worker who is bravely fighting her way back and gets much closer to God.

We learn about a patriotic teenager who joins the military, but also wants to learn more about his nation's attackers and ends up accepting their religion.

We are touched by a 9/11 widow's descriptions of her loneliness, her first dates and how this mother of two goes on to "build a new life for her and her children ... to find her voice as a writer and to settle in what feels like home."

Indeed, 9/11 was a "life-altering day of loss," as attested to by the heart-wrenching and uplifting stories of these seven Americans. And there are thousands of other similar stories of people who were either at the very spot in the pond where the rock hit or whom were affected by the ripples, both close and far away.

We all changed on that day a decade ago.

We were all "one" that day.

But unlike those caught by the direct ripples of the tragedy, most of us slowly forgot who really attacked us that day and what really united us that day. Unlike the spirit, the unity and the "Americanism" that lasted for decades after Pearl Harbor, sadly it appears that we now have short memories and even less resolve.

On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, 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.

Five more years have passed and, in my opinion, our nation is even more divided than five years ago. This time not by wars or related national security issues nor by human and civil rights abuses, but rather because of extreme partisanship, political intransigency (especially on the economy, fiscal and social issues) and by lingering prejudice against certain groups---uncompromising attitudes that have rendered our nation, our government, our society virtually dysfunctional.

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 tragedy, had this to say in a USA TODAY column last September 11:

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.

The title of her column, "An enduring legacy of 9/11: Our hardened worldview."

Hopefully, we have made progress in protecting our nation against attacks from without. Perhaps on this 10th anniversary of 9/11, we can recommit ourselves to strengthening and bonding our nation from within by recapturing our national unity, by softening somewhat our "worldview" and by building a truly worthy, fitting and enduring legacy of 9/11.