Twenty years later and the images still shock and sicken. The horrific explosions, the billowing smoke, the raining debris, the towers collapsing.

Saturday marks the 20-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a Pennsylvania meadow. It’s a date that has been etched into our nation’s collective consciousness and, as is often the case for acts of unimaginable barbarism, serves as a signpost along the highways of our memory. Many of us remember with striking clarity what we were doing when we heard the news, or watched the footage on our screens. It’s a memory marker of shock, sadness and rage that many of us will take with us to our graves.

This year’s 9/11 anniversary is heightened by our nation’s chaotic and blundering withdrawal from Afghanistan, bringing to a close a two-decades-long “war on terror” that has cost our nation thousands of lives and trillions of dollars — with no sense of assurance that we are safer now than we were then.

It would be easy, in light of these events, to allow anger to consume us on this anniversary. It would be easy to point fingers, hurl insults and let this anniversary serve as yet another stretch of asphalt on the road to division and disunity. Those emotions can be comforting. Those accusations might be somewhat justified.

But we think this grim anniversary can be remembered for other, more comforting notions as we mourn the loss of friends and loved ones 20 years ago.

We learned on that day about the strength of the American spirit. We learned that we, as a nation, could come together in prayer and purpose to assist fellow Americans in times of crisis.

We learned about the courage of our nation’s first responders. We saw men and women, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian and from all areas of faith and those with no faith at all run toward the burning buildings to help Americans in need. Many of them remained, trying to get people out, as the towers descended upon them.

And in the weeks, months and years after the attacks, we learned about the strength, courage and devotion of our men and women of the armed forces. We saw how they served on the battlefield and in conflicts with varying objectives and seemingly impossible circumstances. They served with honor.

They served unquestioningly. They return as heroes.

These are the lessons that we take with us as we think about our friends and loved ones who were taken from us on Sept. 11, 2001, and in the years after. These are the thoughts we bring with us as we ask the Almighty to comfort us now and in the decades to come.

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