When the gathering happens this year at the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York City, one segment of the population will be conspicuously absent.
Organizers had announced the change not to include politicians earlier, a decision that makes good sense in a particularly divisive election in a political system that already was divisive.
Eleven years ago today, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives when four passenger jets were taken over by al-Qaida terrorists who destroyed the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon and had plans to destroy the U.S. Capitol. That final attack was thwarted by brave passengers aboard that jet who fought to regain control, resulting in the plane crashing into a field in Pennsylvania. Those brave passengers aboard United Flight 93 lost their lives, but saved others, reminding us of words spoken by Jesus as recorded in John 15:13: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
Organizers said that they chose to omit politicians from speaking roles -- there was no proscription against politicians attending -- so that the focus would be on the victims and their families, not on this candidate or that running for office.
The events of 9/11 have always had a close association with political concerns, and the event has been one that has caused elected officials from presidents to governors to mayors to walk a fine line -- honoring the fallen and their families without the appearance of attempting to find a political advantage.
While we would not go so far as to say that the U.S. president or anyone else should not participate in the ceremony in coming years, we do see the wisdom, particularly in presidential election years, of taking a break from formal appearances by elected officials.
The 9/11 attacks changed the American landscape. They showed us that the freedom we enjoy is anything but free, that there are those who want to see America brought to its knees. The attacks on U.S. soil changed our view that the vast oceans protect us from violence that is common in the Middle East. They brought us together -- if only for a while.
We lost a great deal that day, and in the battlefields overseas since. Each loss should weigh heavily upon us, each a sober reminder that vigilance is required for a democracy to survive.
This ceremony -- and the ceremonies throughout our nation on this day that has come to be known as Patriot Day -- should remind us of that responsibility and serve as a means of remembering and mourning the loved ones we lost, whether they were passengers aboard the planes, occupants of the buildings that were struck, the brave rescuers who came to the aid of the victims or our military personnel in the battlefield.
We owe those who died that respect, and we owe our children and our grandchildren our vigilance.