Sixteen years and one week ago, I was walking across a parking lot when a plane flew overhead. I froze. My heart beat faster, and a chill went through me as I turned to watch the very normal 747 make it's way toward the airport. I watched until it had completely disappeared from view.
It was the first plane I'd seen since 9/11.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, were horrific and all-but indescribable. For weeks afterwards, I walked around in a haze, a hollow pit in my stomach. I subscribe whole-heartedly to William Faulkner's declaration in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail." I tend to see the best intentions, even if I don't agree with the actions (even for politicians). So 9/11 shook me to the core. I couldn't believe that humans could be so violent and filled with hate. It was, in short, an eye-opening, life-changing event.
The shadow of 9/11 would haunt me for years. Later, it would become the focus of my research as I looked at how it impacted our world through the lens of superheroes, which I published in my first (and only) non-fiction book: The Superhero Response. In that research, I learned a lot about heroes and a lot about villains. Because of that, I remain more convinced of the goodness of men and women than ever before.
The night of 9/11, President George W. Bush said: "Today, our nation saw evil -- the very worst of human nature -- and we responded with the best of America." In so many ways, that was true, though it extended well beyond America's borders and culture. Over the last sixteen years, it has felt like our world is under siege from man-made threats, to natural disasters, to political upheaval, to cultural wars. It feels like the world is so much darker than it was even twenty or thirty years ago. This feeling of darkness resulted in a large number of people hoping to "Make America Great Again" and caused many others to rise up stronger than ever against perceived oppression. I am convinced that Charlottesville and other moments like it are the inevitable result of this growing perception of darkness.
But darkness cannot exist without light, and the darker things are, the brighter the light shines.
Even as our world seems to grow darker, we have seen heroes rise up to stand against it. For every evil or terrible moment, there are countless deeds of heroism and kindness that counteract it. Hurricane Harvey was devastating, but led to an outpouring of support. Charlottesville brought thousands into the streets to protest racism and white nationalism. And on and on and on.
Sixteen years ago, watching that plane fly across the sky, a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, I didn't know if I could ever restore my faith in humanity. Now it is stronger than ever.
Today, as we remember that awful morning that revealed so much evil to the world, let us also remember, that we are stronger than the darkness and better than we believe.