Last night, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain participated in a forum on volunteerism and public service in conjuction with the ServiceNation summit at Columbia University in New York. Clearly, given McCain’s military service and Obama’s background as a community organizer, it should be no surprise to anyone that both presidential candidates were in agreement on the importance community service.
Yesterday was also the seventh anniversary of the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks that forever changed the lives of so many Americans. Earlier in the day, the two presidential candidates visited Ground Zero along with New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. McCain’s wife, Cindy. It was entirely appropriate and refreshing that both campaigns put politics aside in a brief moment of unity to pay their respects and honor the fallen.
President Bush observed a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House, then participated in the dedication ceremony of the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial. In a taped message this week (below), President Bush took the opportunity to reflect upon America’s strength, courage and grace in the wake of the attacks. He discussed the intent behind the creation of USA Freedom Corps: to connect Americans with opportunities to serve our country and to foster a culture of citizenship, responsibility and service.
I was actually in New York briefly myself yesterday. On my way back home from business travel in Seattle, I had a couple hours layover at JFK Airport before arriving at Dulles late last night. Honestly, I was a little nervous a couple weeks back when making travel plans and I realized that I would be flying from the west coast back east on 9/11.
In many ways, it felt like any other typical travel day. I got up, packed, checked out of my hotel and headed off to SEA-TAC. I shuffled through both the check-in counter and security line like an old pro, hunted down the closest Starbucks and made my way to the gate. Since I flew on JetBlue, I was able to watch some of the 9/11 coverage including some History Channel programming via my in-flight television – but the world still churned along and people continued to go about their business as usual.
I was in Washington, DC on 9/11/01 and will never forget the panic, fear and gravity of emotions I felt after the tragic events we all witnessed on that horrific day. Seven years later, it’s still difficult for me to comprehend the meaning of it all. Although I was quite pensive yesterday, it wasn’t until I boarded my plane in New York (JFK) en route to Dulles (IAD) that it truly hit me.
Just after we took off, I looked out my plane window and in the distance, I could see the twin World Trade Center spotlights shining from where the towers once stood. As I stared at the lights that brightly pierced the darkness and boldly beamed into the night sky, a profound sense of both sadness and hope came over me.
Although some wounds will never fully heal, our great nation has come a long way since that fateful day and we got through it … together.
As President Bush said:
The terrorists who attacked America on 9/11 underestimated our character. Evil may crush concrete and twist steel, but it can never break the spirit of the American people.
Indeed, setting politics aside to focus on service to country was a perfect way to commemorate the true essence of what it means to be an American and to remember the heroes who served, fought and died to defend and protect it. Never forget!