In the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, Americans found themselves embracing a new holiday known as Patriot Day. Typically American holidays serve celebrate the positive impact of important figures or events in history. But given the sobering level of human destruction that occurred on that day at the hands of terrorists, we do we celebrate Patriot Day each year on September 11?
The answer is not only relatively simple, but it is indeed as compelling as it is heartening. In the days following the tragic events of September 11, America displayed a level of resilience and courage that proceeded to define its national character. From the valiant rescue efforts of the firefighters both during and after the event, to the tendency of the American people to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives and economy after the most severe attack ever to take place on American soil, Americans impressively showed the world that they would not allow themselves to be beat down by foreign threats.
September 11 was designated by President Bush as Patriot Day on September 4, 2002 following a Congressional resolution approved in December, 2001. We celebrate Patriot Day every year not only to commemorate the lives lost, but to honor the heroism of all of those who selflessly worked so hard to take care of their own in the face of danger. President Bush explained the importance of the new holiday during the 2002 proclamation:
"Inspired by the heroic sacrifices of our firefighters, rescue and law enforcement personnel, military service members, and other citizens, our Nation found unity, focus, and strength. We found healing in the national outpouring of compassion for those lost, as tens of millions of Americans participated in moments of silence, candlelight vigils, and religious services. From the tragedy of September 11 emerged a stronger Nation, renewed by a spirit of national pride and a true love of country…
… Americans also have fought back against terror by choosing to overcome evil with good. By loving their neighbors as they would like to be loved, countless citizens have answered the call to help others. They have contributed to relief efforts, improved homeland security in their communities, and volunteered their time to aid those in need…"
It seems clear that American patriotism involves celebrating the lives of average people who, in the face of adversity, have managed to accomplish extraordinary things. The events of September 11 provided perhaps the largest collective challenge the nation had ever been confronted with. Yet the American people rose to the challenge and displayed the kind of compassion and fortitude that many of the nation’s opponents thought they were incapable of. Ultimately, Patriot Day is about never forgetting what the nation endured on that fateful day, as well as how it managed to recover from the event in physical, psychological and economic terms.
Patriot Day has also provided the practical impetus for an important series of history lessons in the schools. Every year, educators through the country use the September 11 events to help students from Kindergarten to the 12th Grade understand topics such as safety, fear, heroism, social action, American values, current events, international studies, human interaction, diversity and compassion.
But perhaps more significantly, Patriot Day serves as a reminder to all Americans of not only where they have come from, but where they may be headed in the future. The holiday allows America to honor the members within its society that are the most admired -- and these individuals are most often those without a national face. They are simply everyday citizens who are able to shine when the unimaginable occurs.