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Remembering the Days After

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America's economy could have collapsed after 9/11, but instead, it rebounded. Its people could have sunk into depression, but we rose to the challenge of rebuilding and supporting those who had lost so much. Taking time to commemorate the sacrifice and loss of so many Americans is fitting; many columns and programs have done so. I prefer to remember how, in the days after 9/11, Americans pulled together to bounce back.

In a visit to Israel in 2005, a citizen observed, "In Israel, we respond differently to terrorist attacks. We don't make a site a memorial to those who died. We work as quickly as possible to reconstruct what has been destroyed in order to focus on living our life now."

Those who died on 9/11 were true victims of unspeakable terrorist acts, but those who remained were not victims. They were survivors. Victim thinking encourages feelings of helplessness and despondency. Americans have always embraced a strong, survivor mentality. As we have at tough times in our history, we showed again that we are a people who endure, persist, and, eventually, succeed in rebuilding our lives.

Do you remember the days, weeks and months after 9/11? I was in upstate New York preparing to present to Verizon leaders, when we were notified that a plane had crashed into the North Tower. The meeting was canceled, and, as we left the room, we saw images of the second plane hitting the South Tower.

The Verizon leaders left to help serve the communication needs of a city under attack. I was grounded in Buffalo, NY. I shared the lobby television with a group of World War II navy veterans who had come together for a reunion and a teen choral group that couldn't get home. Generations were watching, talking together, and listening in ways that only a shared crisis can encourage. Citizens lined up to give blood that wouldn't be needed. Many gathered at houses of worship for prayer. People called friends and love ones. They comforted those who had suffered loss. Americans were already exhibiting strength, compassion, and resolve.

Jerry Useem, writing in Business 2.0, observed that Fall: “This was the first war visited on the workplace. Home of the cubicle, the busted toner cartridge, and other ‘Dilbert’ plot conventions, the American office has long been trivialized as a sanctuary of the petty and banal. On September 11, however it suddenly became anything but. Words and glances passed between colleagues took on life-or-death consequence. … Just as the rituals of democracy take on renewed meaning when we’re under attack, so too do the rituals of capitalism, however, mundane. Now, our work is not only important, but it is now the source of American muscle.”

And collectively, we applied that muscle to bring America back. When "We the People" are at our best, Americans get busy thinking, dreaming, and making our visions a reality. We work through our fears and uncertainty in the most productive and worthwhile way we can. Just surviving has never been enough. The Statue of Liberty stands as reminder of the power of freedom, but, even more important, the goals, guts, and hard work of the American people remain our biggest resource. After 9/11 we decided to get back to work.

I for one don't want to give any more attention to the terrorists that attacked us. It's time we look in the rearview mirror only long enough to learn what we did as a country to rebound from the attack. It's time we put those lessons to work again. We cut taxes, rewarded success, fostered caring communities, drew on our faith in God, and united to face the challenge of rebounding.

As long as we believe in the dream that is America and reclaim the principles that kept the dream alive, we will rebound. It's time to do so again.

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