Last year, on the tenth anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001, my classmates and I held a reunion at Stuyvesant High School, the place where we were, just a few blocks away from the towers on that fateful day.
I re-watched the video of our commemoration and open mic event recently, once again proud to be a part of such an impressive group of young professionals, but also because the tenth anniversary was such an important day of reflection for the nation. Where we had been, where we were now and how the tragedy affected the trajectories of our lives.
Now, as the new tower rises, One World Trade Center, gleaming and beautiful and symbolic (but a structure I suspect New Yorkers will always call The Freedom Tower), I’m reminded that next year will be special as well, as the tower stands completed and we are once again able to reflect and remember.
But then I thought — what about this year?
I think the legacy of 9/11 will be many different things to so many Americans, but I can’t help but think that now more than ever it is important to take time every single year to remember — to remember the lives that were lost, to remember the hate that could rationalize such a tragedy, but most importantly, to remember the unyielding spirit of unity that took hold of the country.
The contrast is particularly stark as another election season plods along with all the elegance of a sputtering car on its last breath. The country has never been more polarized, opponents are increasingly demonized with lazy and dangerous rhetoric, and to say the U.S. is fractured would elicit merely apathetic or despondent nods and head shakes from most people.
That reality puts into focus the goals of the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks. One imagines they were eclipsed farther than their wildest imaginations.
Our country was wounded and temporarily came together, yet to this day, shock waves are felt from their actions. In many ways, we have not recovered.
That’s the thing about reflection, though — depending on your point of view, you can take good or bad from the memories you recall. But there is hope. I would argue that the legacy of 9/11 is still moldable clay — hardening but pliable.
When history books are cracked open a generation from now, unity will follow tragedy, and then a painful decade will follow afterwards. But maybe the end of the chapter, the final legacy of 9/11, can be the strength and quiet resolve of a nation — a nation that righted itself, honored the heroism of everyday citizens and never, ever forgot to mark a single anniversary of September 11, 2001.
Adrian Carrasquillo is social media manager and a web producer for NBC Latino.
WATCH: Incredible Visualization of One World Trade Center building: