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Forever changed by Sept. 11

It’s been 17 years, and most Americans remain haunted by remembrances of Sept. 11. Those nightmarish images are burned into our collective memory. They are as gut-wrenching and heartbreaking today as ever.

Every time people talk about the day that took the lives of 2,996 people — at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania — the trauma is re-experienced. 

Those attacks, the work of 19 hijackers from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East, ripped apart our lives. Amazingly, though, they didn’t extinguish our spirit.

The emergency personnel who responded that day: police officers, firefighters and EMTs, were true heroes. Many lost their lives as a result. Hundreds died at the Twin Towers. Years later, still more have died from illnesses caused by the wake of the explosions.

Life in America has never been the same since that fateful September day in 2001. Certainly New York City remains scarred by the attacks — its skyline forever changed, along with the knowledge that the most vibrant, quintessentially American city in the world stands vulnerable.

The Pentagon, with all its military might, also vulnerable. That has shaken not only Washington insiders but citizens of the U.S. who thought their government institutions were impenetrable.

But it’s the fact there are people out there who so despise what we stand for — freedom, liberty, justice and peace — that continues to shake us to our core. The principles this nation was founded on have served as a beacon to people across the globe fleeing extremism, persecution and terror. We are a haven for all, no matter where they come from — even if they’re from nations populated by those who have pledged to destroy us. Still, we show compassion.

That’s a testament to who Americans are. But we need to remain alert. We need to protect ourselves, so we can be free to protect others.

President Donald Trump has pledged to shore up our borders and expel or prohibit those who don’t belong. It’s a dicey proposition, because we are a nation built by, and built of, foreigners. We are a melting pot of all nations, of all cultures, of all people.

Yes, we should vet those coming to our country extremely carefully. But is Trump right to try to close our borders to those from nations hellbent on destroying us? Perhaps. After all, there’s truth to the argument that if we let in everyone, a few bad apples are sure to slip through. That’s just the harsh reality. But to ban all Muslims? Should we paint with such a broad stroke? Should America really fall prey to that kind of xenophobia?

It’s a dangerous thing — power. Trump is, admittedly, trying to protect us. He knows it’s difficult to make exceptions, so he’s extreme.

We agree with the president, in part. We must, first and foremost, protect America, and all Americans. How we do that fairly, without prejudice and hate-inducing panic, we just don’t know. If only there were people in power truly worthy of our faithful allegiance and loyal support, it would be so much more comforting. But, instead, we have Trump — a power-hungry, hot-tempered, egomaniacal bully. We must rely on his advisors to temper his intolerance. We must hope good judgment guides his actions. And we must pray that his motives are pure — something that’s been hard to determine from his volatile tenure thus far.

More than anything, though, we need to remember 9/11 again this year, and to think of those who died simply because they were American. We should stand tall against hate and extremism. We should speak out against injustice. And we should be vigilant of our borders without becoming intolerant of others. We must be prudent and watchful, say something if we see something, and do our best to promote that which makes our country so strong. 

Lastly, but most importantly, we must hope beyond hope that peace prevails, and that one and all can live free.