Today, we will see and hear remembrances of where people were and what they were doing at the moment they heard about the planes hitting the towers 18 years ago.
I had driven my son to school after an early morning physical therapy appointment and was planning to go to the store. I had the radio on in the car. They were talking about a plane hitting the World Trade Center, but no one knows why. It was probably an accident. As I drove, the second plane hit, and suddenly, this could not have been accidental. I abandoned my trip to the store and went home to turn on the television. I was watching as the towers collapsed.
I remember feeling numb. How could this be real?
I'd never been to the World Trade Center, but I felt a connection to New York City through my husband, who could see it from his back yard as a child — if you climbed a tree and squinted just right. We spent our honeymoon there. In fact there's a picture of the New York skyline taken on that trip that is still hanging on my wall. We had taken our children to museums there.
We were living in Virginia, 160 miles — almost exactly the distance from here to Kansas City — from the Pentagon, which we drove past every time we went north to see family.
These things were too big to be destroyed in this way.
It turns out that was true. The Pentagon was rebuilt. The towers were not, but the ground there has become sacred — a monument to those who died and those who rushed in to help.
But how can we honor that memory?
We can't honor it with hate. If the lesson you remember from 9/11 is that people with different skin and a different religion are the enemy, you learned the wrong lesson.
That's how this started. Someone taught those 19 men to hate people who looked and prayed differently than they did.
Let's remember the lesson from Sept. 16 instead, when our churches were full — not because we had an agenda or even because everyone suddenly believed in God — but because, in a moment of national fear and pain, we wanted to be together.
Blood donations poured in. We couldn't do much, but this act of literally giving of ourselves helped us feel just a little less powerless.
Flag sales skyrocketed. It wasn't a symbol of hate or oppression; it was a symbol of unity.
Yes, there was an increase in fear and violence toward Muslims, but as a nation we condemned it. We knew that the actions of radicals did not reflect the values of the whole.
Now I see hatred and bigotry splashed across Facebook branded as "American." I have seen pictures of the twin towers overlayed with messages of hate based on religion and race.
That's not American. We founded our country on freedom of religion. You don't have to believe the same things I do. I don't have to agree with your beliefs to accept you. I reserve the right to try to change your mind, but I can't do that with hostility. I can only try to do it with love.
Remember 9/11 today, but remember the lesson that you can't defeat darkness with darkness. You can only break through the darkness with light.
Be a light.
Hug your children. Tell someone you love them. Three thousand people went to bed on Sept. 10 not knowing it was their last chance to tell their family and friends how much they loved them.
Fly an American flag. It's not about hatred. It's about "one nation." Patriotism does not equal intolerance and those who want to use our flag as a symbol of oppression can't have it. Let's take it back.
Tell your stories of where you were, but remember to tell the part about how it felt to be a country that came together.
Tell me what matters to you.