“Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?” singer/songwriter Alan Jackson first asked 18 years ago.

Most of us remember where we were when we first heard reports of some kind of accident involving an airplane and the World Trade Center. And we remember where we were, and what we did, when we learned what had really happened.

On that day, Sept. 11, 2001, 19 members of the terrorist group al-Qaida hijacked four airplanes to carry out suicide attacks in the U.S. They flew two of the planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. A third hit the Pentagon. And a fourth, diverted from its target by passengers and crew (among them Greensboro’s Sandy Bradshaw) who rose up and fought back, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 Americans from all walks of life died that day. Hundreds of thousands were injured.

Where were you when the world stopped turning?

Brave first responders and caring volunteers ran to the sites of the attacks to rescue the wounded. As for the rest of us, as Jackson sings, some sobbed; some prayed; some clung to their families; some gave their own blood. We never realized our nation could be that vulnerable. It shook us.

Many dropped everything and signed up for duty. We all mourned. The world mourned with us, sickened that anyone would feel such hatred for “a shining city on a hill,” as President Ronald Reagan put it, “whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”

Then we pulled together. The rest of the world joined with us to condemn and fight terrorism.

But we squandered the world’s support by our investment in a bloody, disastrous war in Iraq that cost thousands of American and Iraqi lives. Eighteen years later, we’re still entangled in chaotic Afghanistan with no ready resolution. Many of our fellow Americans still bear the scars of those battles, on their bodies and in their minds.

Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks, was tracked down and killed by U.S. forces on May 2, 2011, in Pakistan. We have that.

But in the homeland, rather than bond together, we began to drive ourselves apart, fragmenting into sectarian groups, each suspicious of the other. Some expressed their fear and anger toward people who looked the wrong way or attended the wrong house of worship, forgetting that they, too, are Americans. To this day, many are comfortable expressing bigotry toward people who had nothing to do with 9/11. Many define themselves by their political differences rather than the values we all share.

Sept. 11 will never be a day to celebrate; it always will be a day to reflect and remember the 9/11 victims. It’s also a day to honor the members of our armed forces who subsequently answered the call of duty — and to respond to their needs now.

Where were you when the world stopped turning? Where are you today?

Eighteen years later, some hope that the memory of our national tragedy still has the power to make us better people and reaffirm the bright promise of the American dream.

On Sept. 11, 2019, our nation is still healing from that brutal attack. Let’s resolve today to heal together.

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