9/11 Fifteen Years Later

09/12/2016 02:42 pm ET Updated Sep 13, 2017

Every occasion has its traditions. Some are practiced by the masses, and some are what we each individually evolve into doing for ourselves.

Every year on or before 9/11, I listen to a compilation CD of songs written and recorded by independent New York artists after 9/11. It is sacred time for me to reflect on what matters in life, as an American, and as that ticking of the clock grows louder for us all.

I can't speak to what it feels like in the rest of the country, but in New York, this day is palpably somber. If time heals all wounds, it has not healed this one. We've just learned to live with it.

In the period immediately following 9/11, it felt like, for one brief, beautiful moment, we were united. For one brief, beautiful moment, we were all just part of the human race, undivided by color, culture, religion, sexual orientation, or even nationality. The world stood with us in our grief and our horror.

At this fifteen year anniversary of that awful day, it is hard for those of us who lived through it to fathom that an entire generation has grown up since then, and for them, it is part of a history book. The names etched on the memorial have meaning only to those children who were directly impacted by the loss.

I am always looking for the gift or the lesson in situations, and I believed that the gift we all got from the atrocities of that day was that it unified us and caused us to forego our petty nonsense and remember that we are all brothers and sisters.

So it is excruciating to me in this election season, to see what we've become since then. And it physically hurts my heart to listen to a candidate who is running for the leader of this land telling us who to hate, who to fear, and who to blame. That, to me, dishonors every person, civilian or military, who died for our country. And it is the coward's way out.

To be able to stand in unity with those you disagree with most is the only thing that made, makes, or will make America great. To recognize that I may not look like you or believe as you do, or choose to live as you do, and to honor each other's right to do so is what this country needs to exemplify if our democracy is to survive.

I don't care if you sit or stand for the national anthem at a football game. I don't care who or what you pray to, or if you pray at all. I do care if you're taking away my right to choose those things for myself.

When those planes flew into buildings fifteen years ago, we lost not only our innocence, but our complacency. It's a level playing field when you know that no one in any corner of the world is inoculated from terror and violence.

And so the question becomes: Now that we know this, who will we choose to be? Will we be the helping hand for our neighbor? Will we hold each other closer, or suspect each other of the worst? Will we decidedly take a stand for love or hate? Fear or trust? War or peace? Who are we now? What do we value? Who will we be when we know that we can go off to work on a clear, sunny September morning and never return?

This is the time to ask ourselves the hard questions as individuals and as a nation. This is the moment to pause and say, "Who do I want to be?" This is the moment to decide if we greet each other with a clenched fist or an open hand. 3,000 people left for work this morning, fifteen years ago, and never came home. Let's let the lesson be that we care more and not less for each other, that we walk side by side, embracing our differences, and that we are, indeed, stronger together.

May the memories of those who died this day be a blessing to us all.