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Ten years later, the images still sear.

An unremarkable field smolders, hiding remarkable heroism amid charred wreckage. The nation's military nerve center burns, bringing a new kind of war to the war room itself. And, most of all, twin skyscrapers tumble, ending thousands of lives and beginning an unsettling era in the American experiment.

How, we ask, could those towers fall so far, so fast? A question that, in some quarters, gave way to: How could we fall so far, so fast?

Something crumbled with those buildings: our confidence, our certitude, our hope. Despite our bedrock resolve, the dust of doubt, uncertainty and pessimism seemed to hang in the air. Terror yanked away a blanket of warm invincibility, exposing us to a cold world. We rejoiced on V-E Day and V-J Day. But we wonder if we ever will celebrate V-T Day. We shed tears — still — for Sept. 11. Will we ever fully shed the fears?

Maybe we need not do so. Maybe a bit of trepidation today — as long as it doesn't lead to prejudice and hate-mongering — will help us triumph tomorrow. Maybe it's better to exhibit less confidence and more prudence. Maybe, as we navigate the treacherous waters of global affairs, we could show less hubris and more humility, more humanity.

Perhaps pictures of the aftermath of 9/11 can settle into our psyche, too. Then we'll remember the first responders who brave the flames. We'll remember the women and men who sacrifice lives and limbs fighting our battles. We'll remember the pluralism that nurtures our nation and oppose the bigotry at the fringes that weakens it. We'll remember that the quest to preserve our safety must safeguard the foundations that preserve our freedom.

A decade later, all these scenes reveal a changed America, one that holds the promise of being a better America.