Today marks 15 years since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, events that indelibly changed what it means to be an American.
Perhaps the greatest thing to emerge from the rubble of the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., and a field in western Pennsylvania was a renewed sense of national unity and purpose. We were Americans; we would not let the terrorists win.
We shared a new appreciation for the men and women whose job it is to keep us safe, including those serving in the armed forces and our first responders — police, emergency medical technicians and firefighters — all of whom frequently find themselves in harm’s way.
We also found that everyday people are capable of small acts of heroism, from standing in line to donate blood in the aftermath of the attacks, to the countless hours of volunteer work that’s been done every day since then to make our world — or at least our corner of it — a better place.
It may seem of late that our sense of unity is crumbling. Certainly, the current presidential campaign has been divisive as the candidates have tapped into significant philosophical differences about what it means to be an American today.
But on this day, when we think about all that our nation has sacrificed over the past 15 years, we’d like to suggest that maybe we aren’t as far apart as we think.
Sure, there’s a vigorous debate in our nation about the role of government — but that debate has been raging since 1776. It wouldn’t be America if everyone thought the same thing.
But take a look around our community. We still see those small acts of heroism every day. We still see neighbors helping neighbors. We still see volunteers organizing fundraisers and events that benefit those in need or the community as a whole. We still see plenty of individuals willing to step up and help in an emergency. We still appreciate the men and women who risk their lives to keep the rest of us safe.
Perhaps that’s an overly optimistic view. We face significant challenges, both in Alaska and across the nation. But when it comes right down to it, when you cut through all the politics and the rhetoric, Americans — and Alaskans — prefer to solve problems, rather than wallow in them.
So today, please take a few moments to reflect. But also take a few moments to look forward, because it’s that optimism, that belief that we can overcome any challenge in front of us, that has made us who we are.