Time stopped at the hands of terrorists for 2,977 people on that September morning in the second year of this 21st century, but our living family of some 327 million united in the iconic city that generations had built. Where two towers stood as proof of what had been, an image of what could be, appeared. The gaping hole in New York City’s skyline opened to a landscape of the future. Already visible on the path, fresh footprints pointed forward into the months and years that lay ahead, when men and women would take in hand the necessary tools to build anew. That is what Americans do.
Some who were there felt the largeness of what was happening; others, breathing the dust of death, could think only of getting through palpable darkness. Then, as night became day, we reached for a fresh grip on the guideline of this nation we claim as our own. We are Americans.
Now, those footprints of 18 years ago have separated into narrow one-sidedness of “right” and “left” in disagreement over government direction. Denouncing and denying, loud voices demand that others “be like me” and “follow my rules.” This nation on its way to greatness has stalled, not for the first time, in the conflict ongoing since its beginning.
Freedom exists according to limits defined by that measure which each person allows another to enjoy. For a brief moment, in the last decade of the 20th century, balance seemed attainable. The Vietnam War rested in the past; a brief presence in Grenada successfully concluded; and the United States effectively worked with the United Nations in defense of Kuwait.
Well before terrorism altered New York City’s horizon, people in Berlin, on Nov. 9, 1989, found their own opening into freedom’s path. Today, I can touch physical evidence of that breakthrough. It comes from the time when East Berliners began climbing over and through a 26-mile long barbed wire and concrete barricade that had stymied their passage into the West for close to three decades. A piece of that wall hangs on display here in Steamboat Springs, a signpost from the past, loaded the next day by two laughing West Germans into a retired U.S. Air Force sergeant’s truck, signpost from the past.
Dismantling of the Berlin Wall accompanied the demise of the Soviet Union. For some 17 million individuals, the meaning of freedom became clear. By the end of the 20th century Russia and the United States combined forces in constructing the International Space Station, where in 2014, an astronaut who had grown up in. Steamboat Springs joined its crew. Evidenced as far away as the Rocky Mountains’ western slope, positive actions brought hope for a world without conflict, but it was not yet to be. Differences continued to rankle and divide.
How strange to experience blinding animosity when today’s technology enables humans to see farther and clearer than ever before in this planet’s known history. A powerful infrastructure of highways, airports, and electric cables links neighbors and nations beneath Earth-circling satellites. The internet illuminates instantaneous connections among and between most of the Earth’s people.
Touching a fragment of the wall that fell those many years ago, I can feel the guideline that has taken shape and strengthened through 243 years. It rises skyward beyond the World Trade Center’s imposing structure of concrete and steel, aligns toward the wide-open landscape of the future. The past lives in the inheritance claimed bythose of us who now share this moment, part of what will be called history. We bear the obligation to respect ratherthan control our differences. For those whose lives ended on Sept. 11, 2001, we close our eyes in remembrance, open our minds to recognize our responsibility to each other and to the children who will live after us.
We are Americans.