For those of us old enough to remember where we were on 9/11, our lives will forever be separated into the time before the Twin Towers fell, and the time after.
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For those of us old enough to remember where we were on 9/11, our lives will forever be separated into the time before the Twin Towers fell, and the time after.

While the memories of the victims and the devastation remain painful, they're layered with the images of what this country became in the days, weeks and months following the attacks of that Tuesday in September. Before our eyes, Americans unified with hands outstretched to their neighbors. New Yorkers, feeling powerless to help the victims and first responders, showed their support through vigils, leaflets and flyers posted for the missing and the lost. The Pentagon, rocked back on their heels from the attack, adopted an offensive posture while beginning the long process of rebuilding. Even members of Congress, who now appear incapable of agreeing on the day of the week, stood together on the steps of the Capitol building, united in purpose and strength. And I, an active duty Marine at the time, packed my bags and waited impatiently to be called, feeling that a declaration of war would be somehow cathartic.

Then, over the months and the years that followed, we all slowly drifted back to our myopic lives, turned inward, set one foot in front of the other, and walked our individual paths, eventually fading entirely away from the unity and the camaraderie that we felt in the days following September 11, 2001.

Now, 14 years from the day that our lives were divided forever into a before and an after, we spend September 11th in quiet reflection of the souls lost to the flames, the height and the horror. We herald the bravery of the men and women who sacrificed their own lives in the hopes that others would survive − those who ran into the towers when everyone else was running out, and those who faced an unspeakable fear with a simple but unforgettable cry of, "Let's roll!"

Every year on September 11th, I read "The Little Chapel That Stood" to my kids − now 9, 7 and 4 − and my husband and I answer their increasingly probing questions about terrorism. But it never lasts, and I know that I'm somehow failing to capture the strength and the resiliency that ought to define our nation's response to the attacks.

How will they ever know what it felt like to be a part of something incredible in the days that followed − to see Old Glory wave through the ashes and the smoke?

This year will be different. This year, on September 11th, I'll join more than 40 other military veterans and members of the 7th District Police in service at Democracy Prep Congress Heights, a public charter school in the depths of Washington, D.C.'s Ward 8. This will be our attempt to capture the sense of camaraderie, pride, strength and resilience that we felt 14 years ago. The garden that we'll build for this incredible school will be a tribute to the fallen, and will honor their memory and their sacrifice.

My kids will be with me at Democracy Prep Congress Heights, and I wouldn't have it any other way. It's time they became a part of the true legacy of September 11th in this country − the legacy of service.

Step away from your cubicles on Friday and join us. Stretch out your hand in service to your neighbor and help us to rekindle the feeling that we enjoyed when our country was at its best, inspiring the next generation to serve. This is our legacy, and it begins now.

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