President Bush stated that the lessons of that horrible day were that Americans are no longer protected by having the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans between us and our foes, and that we must be vigilant to prevent future attacks. And for the most part (Pearl Harbor) I agree with him.
But there is another big lesson that was learned.
Americans and America at times is accused of being hopelessly selfish and demanding of instant, ever increasing demands for gratification. Yet there were countless tales of people carrying others down hundreds of flights of stairs to safety while the Towers burned. Of firefighters and policemen and -women who weren't even called to the scene, yet stopped to lend a hand. And of course, the courageous and selfless actions of the passengers of Flight 93, who stormed the cockpit and stymied another airplane strike aimed at Washington, D.C.
While certain parts of America reared its ugly head in the weeks that followed (e.g. the assaults on Sikhs because of the religious turban the men wear), the aftermath of the attack also showed that Americans can be kind and selfless to strangers. The Red Cross received millions of dollars, the blood banks were overwhelmed, and volunteers were turned away from clearing the rubble in lower Manhattan. Many of my generation enlisted in the armed services or applied to a military academy.
I would like to get that feeling back. Along with the knowledge that the world was behind us, mourning with us, and vowing to help us exact revenge. Much of that good will was squandered. Even the organic urge for service was converted into a plea to go shopping and take a vacation.
We know we have it in us. It just takes a dramatic moment or a leader to actualize it. Many were hoping that President Obama would be that leader. So far, his feet are firmly planted on the ground, either by choice or by the realities of the legislative process. Yet glimmers of hope arise, when, like Wednesday night, Obama gives a rousing speech and reminds those of us who voted for him why we waited for hours in line to do so.