By Joseph A. Curtatone
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)
We still remember where we were. We still remember the shock and grief, and how the world mourned with us. We remember the overwhelming sense of injustice and of senseless loss. We remember the selfless heroism of New York’s police officers and firefighters. We remember the inspirational courage of the passengers on United Flight 93.
Over the years, we have tried to piece together the enduring significance of 9/11. And we have tried to take its lessons to heart.
Over the years, communities like ours have come to recognize that 9/11 was a wake-up call and challenge to declare our values and chart a new course.
There’s no doubt, for example, that it’s shaped our thinking about public safety. As a community, we have made substantial investments over the past eleven years in improving the equipment, training, technologies and operating procedures of our police and firefighting forces. While that effort must and will continue for years to come, Somerville is a significantly safer city than it was in 2001, and we are far more capable of handling a wide range of emergencies and disasters.
9/11 taught us to be wary and to be prepared, and we have embraced those lessons.
But if 9/11 reminded us that our complex society is fragile and vulnerable, it also reminded us of how much we depend on each other and how much we have in common with our neighbors. For a while at least, 9/11 brought us closer to one another, and while it sometimes feels as if that sense of connection has been lost at the national level, it’s still very much in evidence here in Somerville.
Despite our diversity and our competing interests, we have come together over the past decade to create a truly amazing shared vision of what our city can and should be. We have pushed forward on a complex but cohesive effort to give our city a stronger, better, brighter, healthier future. We are building a city with more transit, more housing, more school capacity, more businesses, and more investment. And the reason we are getting those things because people want to live here. Somerville is a place where people want to be.
By working together to improve our future, Somerville rejects the empty uselessness of hatred, intolerance and closed minds. We bear witness to the superior strength of cooperation, tolerance, diversity, intellectual curiosity and freedom.
That’s not to say that we don’t still argue and struggle. We know how to push each other’s buttons. But we have created a positive identity and a plan for our community that is attracting attention even at the national and international levels.
People talk about our energy, our civic innovation, our commitment to healthy living, our eclectic festivals, our unique blend of cultures as far away as Washington (the city and the state), as Canada, as Morocco, as Australia. Locally, they just rank us as a top place to live.
So if the greatest lesson of 9/11 is that we must honor one another, work with one another, and build a future together – not just for ourselves but for our neighbors – then Somerville has learned that lesson.
And don’t think for a minute that I take the credit for that achievement. Somerville has done what it has done and is where it is today not because of any one person or group, but because we have an active, engaged and spirited community.
It is because we care about each other. As President Obama said in his address to the Democratic Convention, “We, the people recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only, “What’s in it for me?”, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.
“As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government.”
Locally, nationally, and globally, the best way to honor the memory of 9/11 is to continue our efforts to build a stronger future founded on cooperation and mutual understanding. Here in Somerville, we’ve taken that lesson to heart. And we will continue to bear witness.