“The worst times, as we see, separate the civilized of the world from the uncivilized.  This is the moment of clarity.  Let the civilized toughen up, and let the uncivilized take their chances in the game they started.”  Lance Morrow

Ten years ago, my friend and I arrived in Milan by train from Florence on the last day of a long-planned Tuscan vacation. As we checked into our hotel, an old man sitting in the lobby said to us in halting English, “You are American?”   I initially hesitated.  Even prior to the attacks, the military had trained me not to advertise my nationality overseas.   I was already fully aware that the world was a dangerous place for Americans.

But even though I was not wearing a Yankees cap or a Texas belt-buckle, I knew that once I began talking, our identity would quickly become obvious.  “Yes,” I replied, “We’re from the States.”

He nodded grimly.  “They attack your building in New York. The big one.”

“The Empire State building?” I asked incredulously.

“No, with the two…” he did not know the word for “towers”, so he made them with his two index fingers.

“The World Trade Center?”  He nodded.  “No, they attacked that years ago.”

He shook his head furiously.  “No, they attack today.  And in Washington, your military building.”

“The Pentagon? What?  Really?  Who?”  He merely shrugged.  We quickly finished the check-in process and hurried up to our room, turning on the television in time to see the second tower coming down.

The next day we knew we could not fly home, but decided to at lease make our connection to Frankfurt and wait there.  During every step of our journey, we experienced an outpouring of sympathy for the United States.  Countless Germans at the airport offered to let us sleep in their homes instead of in the terminal. On our last day in Frankfurt, we had to make our way to the U.S. consulate to handle a passport issue.  The taxi could only take us so far because the Germans cordoned off a large area around the building.  After identifying myself and passing through the checkpoint, we walked down sidewalks that were covered with flowers, candles, and messages for blocks and blocks.

Despite the fact that the attacks were conducted inside the United States, I felt more vulnerable being overseas than I would have sitting at home.  In those fearful days, I was comforted by many things:  the companionship of my close friend, the presence of heavily armed guards at the airport, the knowledge that the rest of the civilized world was on our side, and my faith that the United States would make it through the tragedy and soon confront the animals that did us harm.

Today is not the day to pass judgment on what we have done correctly and what we have done wrong over the last decade. There are 364 other days in the year for such discussions and debates.

Today we remember the sacrifices made by so many on that tragic day and to be thankful such dedicated firefighters, police officers, and paramedics protect us every day in our communities.  If we never forget, if we never lose the spirit of solidarity and selflessness demonstrated that day ten years ago, we will never be defeated.

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