For those of us alive on September 11, 2001, it has been a fast and eventful 20 years to today. In many ways, these 20 years have literally been a lifetime. So many wonderful tributes have been written and shared, celebrating the fallen, the heroic, the inspiring, the tragic, and the hopeful. The anniversary of the horrific events of September 11, 2001 brings us together to remember and celebrate the best parts of humanity that emerged from a day displaying some of the very worst parts of humanity.
In many ways, our country, and our people, remain faithful to the memory of that fateful day. The photos, videos, posts, memorial graphics, speeches, and displays reflect our commitment to remembering. A promise spoken and unspoken by many over the last 20 years: never forget.
What is it to be faithful? The last few days have shown a version of it as we’ve honored a promise to never forget. Promises form the foundation of faithfulness. Sometimes they’re spoken, as in the vows we make when we marry. Sometimes they are written, as in the contracts or other legal documents we create to establish a shared understanding and formalize a commitment. Sometimes they are unspoken, as in the bonds of friendship or family that guide us, tug at us, or convict us as we make choices along the way. To be faithful is to be loyal. To be faithful is to follow through on a commitment. To be faithful is be all-in.
Consider some of the things to which you remain faithful. I mentioned marriage above as one obvious one, however there are many. We are faithful to commitments, large and small. We may be faithful to an employer, to a mission, or to a belief. Often, we strive to be faithful to an ideal. Many of our commitments are made and honored externally, but there are also many made and honored internally. Yes, we make many, many promises to ourselves.
So many commitments. So many promises. Such a call to be faithful. And yet, time and again, we fail. The fidelity we promised gives way to infidelity in the face of the expeditious, the shiny, the sultry, or the easy. We break promises to our spouses. We break promises to our employers. We break promises to our friends and family. We break promises to ourselves. In so many ways and with such frequency, we are unfaithful to our commitments.
Naturally, not all promises are the same, right? There are little acts of infidelity and there are big acts of infidelity. There are promises broken that we can forgive and there are those which are unforgivable. And, there are the lies we tell ourselves, and others, along the way. The rationalizations. The equivocations. The justifications. Over time, we build an internal scale of relativism that helps protect our sense of self when we break our promises. At first, we break from relatively small promises, but like most problematic aspects of our humanity, it all escalates from there.
Though we break promises, we are capable of incredible fidelity. There are many couples who maintain lifelong commitments of physical and emotional faithfulness. Our 9/11 tributes reveal story after story of first responders who gave their lives to save others as they remained faithful to the commitment of their mission. Our best friends are the ones who show up for us in the most difficult times. Many of us are blessed with parents who have faithfully loved us even when we didn’t deserve it.
These days require a renewed faith and faithfulness. These times demand fidelity of a different sort. A fidelity that starts by remembering. Remembering 9/11, it’s fallen, and the eventful years since. But also a fidelity to the memories of our founding, our Civil War, the forging of our industrial power, the wars against evil in the 20th Century, the battles to fulfill the promise of our Constitution through equal rights, and our ongoing efforts to protect the world from the darkest inclinations of those who seek to control and dominate others.
Most of all, we need to remain faithful to the promise made in our own Declaration of Independence when we said “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” A promise of hope. A commitment to the good, the true, and the beautiful.
Today, honor the fallen of 9/11 by remembering that fateful day, and then by remaining faithful to the promise of our great Nation. A promise that you can maintain in the choices you make. A promise you can sustain in your own faithfulness.