A Land of Light
Look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.
I sat in an old, squeaky chair in the back row of the Fox Theatre last night to watch Hamilton. It was a fantastic performance, and I found it even more powerful on the eve of the 20th anniversary of 9/11. There is a continuity to our American story, from the rough and tumble revolutionary beginnings to the modern age, that I firmly believe can never be disrupted. It is the principled belief that people are worth a great deal and that liberty is among the most treasured gifts, an unalienable right. These ideas were woven into the foundation of our country to establish that continuity and safeguard our posterity. Our grave sins as a nation were measured and condemned by the very principles we put in place. We knew, many from the inception of our country, that there were stains. The very light that illuminated these dark spots was the self-evident truth we proclaimed; all men are equal. It is the light that still shines on the corruption and deceit we witness, for there is also the continuity of broken human nature and its consequences, an inescapable reality with which we will always contend. But we have a light.
What followed the tragic events of 9/11 proved this to be true in a way we have not seen since. We remember the people who gave their lives, the people who lost the ones they loved most, the people who still have aches and pains in their bones from the work they did that day, and we remember who we are at our very best. We remember that we have a light, both individually and as a nation.
On September 20, 2001, President Bush gave a State of the Union address. He opened with:
“Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro Tempore, members of Congress, and fellow Americans, in the normal course of events, presidents come to this chamber to report on the state of the union. Tonight, no such report is needed; it has already been delivered by the American people. We have seen it in the courage of passengers who rushed terrorists to save others on the ground. Passengers like an exceptional man named Todd Beamer. And would you please help me welcome his wife Lisa Beamer here tonight? We have seen the state of our union in the endurance of rescuers working past exhaustion. We've seen the unfurling of flags, the lighting of candles, the giving of blood, the saying of prayers in English, Hebrew and Arabic. We have seen the decency of a loving and giving people who have made the grief of strangers their own. My fellow citizens, for the last nine days, the entire world has seen for itself the state of union, and it is strong.”
We have a light. We have always had it. There were times it was painfully dim, and we wrestle with that, but it has never gone out. On 9/11, people gave everything. They were the embodiment of the light. We honor them today.
There is a verse in Hamilton that’s repeated throughout the play: “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” I cried a little in that old, squeaky chair, because I felt that in a very real sense, and I feel it even more today. By God’s grace we live in a land with light. May we cherish that.