Monday is the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and though that terrible September morning was almost two decades ago, the aftermath is still very much with us. Whether you lost someone that day, or watched in horror and confusion as the events unfolded on TV, or even if you weren't born yet, the events of September 11th, 2001 shape every aspect of our modern society, including our right to privacy, our immigration policies, the way we board planes, and the way we treat our fellow Americans who happen to be Muslim.
Every year on September 11th, we mourn, remember, reflect, and try to make sense of the horrible events of that day. And every year we struggle, because even after all of these years, it is almost impossible to comprehend the overwhelming amount of loss and pain that we suffered as individuals and as nation. And while it is always challenging, this year's anniversary feels especially difficult, because so many of the shared values that brought us together as a country after 9/11 — a shared commitment to liberty, diversity, equality — seem to be under attack.
But it's precisely because these values are being threatened that we must take time on this September 11th not only to mourn, but to reflect on the lessons we learned in the wake of that tragedy. Because while that sunny September morning was filled with loss and pain, it was also filled with courage and love and selflessness.
Here are nine quotes that pay tribute to the individuals we lost that day, the heroes who emerged, and the lessons we continue to learn.
"If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate." - Sandy Dahl, wife of Jason Dahl, pilot of Flight 93
“Remember the hours after September 11th when we came together as one to answer the attack against our homeland. We drew strength when our firefighters ran upstairs and risked their lives so that others might live; when rescuers rushed into smoke and fire at the Pentagon; when the men and women of Flight 93 sacrificed themselves to save our nation’s Capitol; when flags were hanging from front porches all across America, and strangers became friends. It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us.” –Senator John Kerry
"September 11 is one of our worst days but it brought out the best in us. It unified us as a country and showed our charitable instincts and reminded us of what we stood for and stand for." – Senator Lamar Alexander
“What separates us from the animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met.” - Author David Levithan
“It’s the nature of the world that most people have moved on, but the people directly involved with 9/11, for them, twice a day it’s 9/11.” - Robert Reeg, former FDNY firefighter.
"Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11." – President Barack Obama
"My father was the best person I have ever known and though he was taken from me on that day, nothing and no one will ever be able to take way the eight years and two days of my life that I shared with him. After my father died, and after I lost so much, I promised myself that I would never lose who I am as a person – the person that my father brought me up to be. … If you owe someone an apology, tell them you are sorry today. If someone asks for your forgiveness, forgive them. Start being the person you always wanted to be today and don’t waste your time worrying about tomorrow." – Mary Kate McErlean, whose father was killed on 9/11 when she was 8 years old.
“Ten years have passed since a perfect blue sky morning turned into the blackest of nights. Since then we’ve lived in sunshine and in shadow, and although we can never unsee what happened here, we can also see that children who lost their parents have grown into young adults, grandchildren have been born and good works and public service have taken root to honor those we loved and lost.” - Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
“September 11, 2001 seems destined to be the watershed event of our lives and the greatest test for our democracy in our lifetimes.” – Lt. Col. Shelton F. Leskford, U.S. Marine Corps
"One of the worst days in America's history saw some of the bravest acts in Americans' history. We'll always honor the heroes of 9/11. And here at this hallowed place, we pledge that we will never forget their sacrifice." - President George W. Bush.