I was beginning to think leadership, bravery and initiative in the face of adversity were dying out; weren't politically correct anymore, or those who knew the score were getting old and dying.
Now I know I was right ... and wrong. Leadership, bravery and initiative in the face of superhuman odds are still some of the most powerful axioms of being an American. But I was right about the fact those people were dying. They showed us, selflessly, on September 11th, just how brave those regular people we work with every day can be.
I watched the early footage of cops and firefighters running toward the smoke, falling debris and carnage while thousands of citizens ran away from it. I was reminded yet again of this peculiar breed of men and women who feel the urge - no, the irresistibly compelling need - to run toward danger.
I wanted my hands on the concrete and torn steel. My heart screamed to be there, to stop the bleeding, to offer aid, to dig out survivors and to fight something. Especially the last. Why couldn't I have been on one of the planes to help? You and I would have met our eyes across the aisle and known we were going to act.
This is a lousy spectator sport and I'm not happy sitting on the sidelines. And neither are tens of thousands of other Americans. We're with you.
Those officers, and others, ran in and put their lives on the edge of the knife - and the cut went the wrong way. Now, more than ever, we need to find our gutpile and not lose it for the long haul ahead, so that those heroes did not die needlessly.
On Monday of that fateful week, many Americans were complaining about their differences, their inability to get along. Yet, on Tuesday, we suddenly became one. The fall of those two towers acted like the hammers in a forge, melding us together in that cataclysmic heat. The bodies of our fallen, mixed with the steel and concrete, served to create a mortar that has built our "terrible resolve" into an unstoppable force. And that force is aimed in one direction now.
The perpetrators of this evil will run; and they will scratch and claw and yet, we will find them cowering under the rocks they will try to hide beneath. We will pay back - and we will collect interest. The mortar will get stronger and our resolve will become even more terrible, until it will be an awful thing to behold.
The Barbary pirates thought they were safe until the first American frigate found them. There are still American frigates and I haven't noticed a Barbary pirate. Anywhere.
If the criminal garbage that did this thought it would divide us they have discovered a terrible truth: They attacked what they thought was America and found out they were horribly wrong. There will always be fanatics who will kill little girls and old ladies, blinded by faith in a self-proclaimed messiah; but there will always be people who care. There will always be Americans who will race into burning buildings, or run in front of bullets - or fight armed terrorists in a cockpit - to counter them. They will be regular people who have heroism in their hearts.
I am proud to be an American but I am especially proud to know you.
We will pay any price, bear any burden and go to any length to fight this barbarism. What the world has witnessed in us since September 11, 2001 is a telling tale. Notice the bickering has stopped, the feuds placed on hold. It's okay for us to squabble amongst ourselves, but don't ever think we'll take it from someone else.
Get ready, terrorists of all ilk. We're looking - in ways you can't even conceive of. And when we find you, it will be swift and sure and final and your souls will rot in hell and your bodies will be eaten by rats. And that's a promise. From us.
As Leonard Pitts, Jr. said in the Miami Herald, September 12, 2001: "You don't know what you just started. But you're about to learn."