Hard to believe 20 years have passed since the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

In some ways, it’s hard to believe it happened at all.

Planes smashing into buildings. One then the other. All caught by cameras. Large jets slamming into glass. Dizzying spirals of smoke. People jumping, falling, dying from the burning immensity of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. The towers collapsing. An apocalyptic storm of smoke, ash, dust, cascading in a rush through the caverns of New York’s streets.

A third plane in Washington, D.C., ramming the Pentagon. A fourth plane forced down in the wreckage of a Pennsylvania field.

All planes grounded across the nation. The President on the move in Air Force One across the nation.

The near-biblical exodus of soot-covered New Yorkers walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. Grey posters littering a grey city seeking missing people.

Thousands missing.

Thousands dead.

This is the stuff of nightmares.

Many of us lived through it. We experienced it. We saw it on television live and then rebroadcast repeatedly from almost every conceivable angle because it was such a public event.

Still, it almost seems too impossible to have happened, too large and awful to contemplate, especially now, 20 years and counting.

But it did happen as so many awful holes attest. The awful hole left in the New York skyline. The awful hole left in the heart of Manhattan. The awful hole in the side of the Pentagon.

The awful hole in that Pennsylvania field.

The awful holes in the hearts of relatives who lost loved ones that day. The awful hole left in the American psyche. A hole so large that planes and buildings could disappear in it. A hole so personal that fear could pour into it.

On the far side of this shadow, with new dangers in the world, there may be those who wish to re-dedicate the nation to a litany of fear. But remembering 9/11 should not serve as a national commitment to fear. Past bombs, planes, bullets and knives, it is fear that is the prime ingredient in the terrorists’ arsenal.

A terrorist deals in death but his real merchandise is fear.

For all of the anniversaries of that horrible day in the years to come, let us make Sept. 11 a time to recommit ourselves to being a nation of courage. Let us remind ourselves of the final words of our National Anthem.

That America is the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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