A Time to Celebrate Our Togetherness?

09/11/2011 12:53 am ET | Updated Nov 11, 2011

It's started: the buildup to the anniversary of 9/11. This year is different, because it's the 10-year anniversary. There's nothing like a decade milestone to capture your attention. I have to admit, it caught me a little off-guard when I realized it had been that long (you always hear it called 9/11 without any reference to the year). I thought to myself, has it been 10 years? In some ways, it seems like yesterday.

In other ways, it seems like a lot longer than that. September 11 hasn't ever really gone away. For one, there's the ongoing maneuvering on how to disengage from Iraq and Afghanistan. For another, there's the incessant political wrangling over ground zero and what's to be built on and around it. For another, there are the legal battles over first responder health claims. I guess, after 10 years, I'm tired of all this arguing and conflict around an event that, initially, brought us together.

In some ways, it reminds me of what can happen after a death in the family. In the initial shock and grief, family members rally around each other -- it just seems the thing to do. Address books are hunted down and phone calls placed to unused numbers. Cousins halfway around the country meet as photographs come to life. People with the same last name introduce themselves to each other. Sprinkled among the awkward pauses in unfamiliar conversation are promises to get together, to keep in touch. In the enormity of death, distances and busyness and squabbles shrink and appear more manageable.

Family unity, sadly, can unravel as soon as the grave's been covered and those from out of town head back to the airport. Siblings start to bicker over unallocated leftovers, with greed papered over as a declaration of devotion. Personal grief is used to bully others into acquiescent decisions. Death turns from an event that draws people together to just another example of why they rarely got together in the first place. When that happens, more than a loved one is lost; an opportunity to change and grow is lost as well.

I hope we're not losing that opportunity on 9/11. This year, especially, I hope we'll use the remembrance as more than a platform to display our discord. I'm not optimistic as I watch the bickering over who is and is not invited to which ceremony during this run-up to the day. I keep asking myself, what have we learned? How has this made us a better people?

And then I saw a magazine piece on 10 children whose fathers died on 9/11. It was a hopeful, encouraging piece about how these children, who weren't even born yet on the day of the tragedy, are making sense of their loss. They aren't mired in politics or arguing; they're only 9 years old. They are living their lives each day, finding ways to experience personal growth from a very public tragedy. They understand they are part of something bigger than themselves, and that has given them comfort.

So, this 9/11, I'm going to spend some time remembering -- and not just the planes and the horror, the dust and the death. I'm going to concentrate on that feeling of togetherness. Instead of dwelling on our differences, I'm going to celebrate our unity. When we were attacked, it got our attention. For a brief moment, we stopped the arguing and the fighting and linked hands. If we could do it in 2001, perhaps we can still do it in 2011. This anniversary gives us another opportunity to remember how.