Today, we pause to remember a day that tested our country. On September 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 lives were lost in the deadliest attack on American soil in our history. We will never forget the images of planes vanishing into buildings; of photos hung by the families of the missing. We will never forget the anger and sadness we felt. And while nine years have come and gone since that September morning, the passage of time will never diminish the pain and loss forever seared in the consciousness of our nation.
That is why, on this day, we pray with the families of those who died. We mourn with husbands and wives, children and parents, friends and loved ones. We think about the milestones that have passed over the course of nine years – births and christenings, weddings and graduations – all with an empty chair.
On this day, we also honor those who died so that others might live: the firefighters and first responders who climbed the stairs of two burning towers; the passengers who stormed a cockpit; and the men and women who have, in the years since, borne the uniform of this country and given their lives so that our children could grow up in a safer world. In acts of courage and decency, they defended a simple precept: I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper.
And on this day, we recall that at our darkest moment, we summoned a sense of unity and common purpose. We responded to the worst kind of depravity with the best of our humanity.
So, each year at this time, we renew our resolve against those who perpetrated this barbaric act of terror and who continue to plot against us – for we will never waver in defense of this nation. We renew our commitment to our troops and all who serve to protect this country, and to their families. But we also renew the true spirit of that day. Not the human capacity for evil, but the human capacity for good. Not the desire to destroy, but the impulse to save.
That is why we mark September 11th as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. For if there is a lesson to be drawn on this anniversary, it is this: we are one nation – one people – bound not only by grief, but by a set of common ideals. And that by giving back to our communities, by serving people in need, we reaffirm our ideals – in defiance of those who would do us grave harm. We prove that the sense of responsibility that we felt for one another was not a fleeting passion – but a lasting virtue.
This is a time of difficulty for our country. And it is often in such moments that some try to stoke bitterness – to divide us based on our differences, to blind us to what we have in common. But on this day, we are reminded that at our best, we do not give in to this temptation. We stand with one another. We fight alongside one another. We do not allow ourselves to be defined by fear, but by the hopes we have for our families, for our nation, and for a brighter future. So let us grieve for those we’ve lost, honor those who have sacrificed, and do our best to live up to the values we share – on this day, and every day that follows.