When I set out to write a song about the events of September 11, 2001, I concentrated on the many heroic acts that stood out as bright spots in that otherwise dark day. I decided to write about the most unexpected group of heroes: the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93, who fought back against the hijackers and, in giving their own lives, prevented them from killing anyone else. Unlike the (also heroic) policemen and firefighters who died when the World Trade Center towers collapsed, these were not professional rescuers, and (unlike the firefighters, for example) no one would have been critical of them if they had not acted at all. In addition, the contrast between the hijackers, who believed in their cause (whatever that might have been) strongly enough to kill innocent people for it, and the passengers, who died in order to save the lives of others, was so dramatic that I made that the theme of the chorus (the first line of the chorus, I found out later, is a paraphrase of one of Mohandas Ghandi’s statements). The second verse owes a lot to the book by Lisa Beamer (widow of Todd Beamer, one of the passengers, and the original source of the phrase in her title) and Ken Abraham, Let’s Roll!: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage; and in particular, to the chapter entitled “The Bigger Picture”— the thought that people such as Jesus Christ, Mohandas Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., would have known quite well that their efforts to change the world by nonviolent means could cost them their lives (and in all three cases, did just that), and were willing to make that sacrifice anyway. I also borrowed the last line of Alan Jackson’s song about that same day, which I believe is one of the best anyone has written about it, to use as the first line of mine– I hope he won’t mind.
Where were you, when the world stopped turning, on that September day?
On September 11, a black day that we will remember forever,
Two very different kinds of people suddenly came together.
There were some who thought that their cause was so right, they’d send innocents to their graves;
And some who decided to risk their own lives, so others would be saved.
There are things that I would die for, but there are none that I would kill for;
And that’s a difference that some people just don’t see.
Though I was far away, all men are brothers, and I can say:
When they gave their lives on that dark day, they died for me.
Though they gave up their lives so that we would survive, one thought still should remain:
If they’d only known what that day would become, not a one would have boarded that plane.
So just think how much more the sacrifice, if you knew that you might die,
For trying to make this world a better place, and still you set out to try.
You’d never know they had it in them unless you’d looked into their souls;
But we’ll remember them all as heroes, and their final words: “Let’s roll!”
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