Twenty two years ago today on September 12th, 2001, Glenn wrote an essay called "The Greatest American Generation." These were his visceral thoughts immediately following the 9/11 attacks. This beautiful essay calls upon the American spirit to rise to the occasion to pull us through what was one of the darkest days in our nation's history. He called us to unite around the common vision that unites us as Americans.
Yesterday, Glenn revisited this essay, wondering if we are the same people who could have pulled through that dark hour. Do you still believe the things that he wrote in this essay? Or have we become a people too divided to overcome a tragedy of the magnitude of 9/11? Consider these questions as you read Glenn's essay below, "The Greatest American Generation," published on September 12, 2001.
I've always believed that the greatest American generation is the one that's living, in the here and the now. The question is not if this is the greatest American generation. The question was when were we going to wake up? I remember staying at my grandparents' house in the summer when I was small. Every morning my grandmother would open the attic door and call up, "Kids, time to wake up." For me she'd have to do this a couple of times before I'd lumber out of bed and cross the cold, squeaky wooden floor. But finally, I would. And she'd be there in the kitchen ready with breakfast. My grandfather was already outside in the henhouse because there was work to do. They were hardworking, good and decent people. Seemed to me that they were from not only a different time but a different place. They weren't.
The spirit of our parents and our grandparents isn't from some foreign place. It hasn't died out. It's a flame that flickers in all Americans. It's there and it's ready to blaze to life when we're ready to face the challenges that now lie at our feet. It's what sets us apart. It's what built this country. It's why our borders still teem with the poor and the tired and those yearning to be free, burned with zeal in the hearts of millions of immigrants from every corner of the Earth who came here in search of a better way of life. The flame that Lady Liberty holds is the American spirit which burns deep within all of us, no matter what our race, gender, our religious background. And today the world is watching us. It's really nothing new. It always has.
Since the dawn of man people dreamt of a better life, dreamt of a better way, of freedom. But it was Americans that finally found a way to build it. And out of all that we've built, the powerful machines, the computers, the weapons of mass destruction, hardware and software that we spent millions on every year to protect and keep the plan secret, our biggest seeming secret, the one the world wants most of all, isn't a secret at all. It's something we freely give to the rest of the world. And while it seems self‑evident to us, for some reason it can't be duplicated. Yet it can be passed on from person to person, torch to torch. It's the American spirit.
If you weren't trapped in one of those towers or on a plane or in the Pentagon, then you have great reason to humbly give thanks today, not for our lives but because we're the lucky ones. God hasn't forsaken us. He's awakened us. Standing at the bottom of the stairs, he's gently called out, "Kids, it's time to wake up! We've been given another chance."
Thousands of years ago in Babel, the great civilization in their arrogance built a tower that reached the sky. It crumbled and they were scattered. Our heart and steely symbols of power and wealth may have crumbled, but we have not been scattered. Americans aren't ever going to scatter. Let the world recognize through our actions today that those firefighters in New York are not the exception. They are the rule. Americans don't run from burning buildings. We run into them. It was a beautiful fall morning on the edge of the land created through divine providence. Coffee shops were open. Children were on their buses and people easing into another typical workday when America's greatest generation heard the voice: "Kids, it's time to wake up."
Several times we've ignored the voice. We've drifted back into twilight sleep muttering, "I know, I know, in a minute." But finally we are awake and out of bed, for there is much work to do. The task before us is much more daunting than what our grandparents and parents faced, but we are stronger, a more prepared nation. The torch has been passed. We are the greatest American generation. The American spirit is alive and well. Our flame has not burned out. It had just been dimmed while we were asleep."