IT IS HARD to believe it has been four years since my mom was murdered on Sept. 11, 2001. When my phone rings, I still find myself anticipating caller ID to pop up ''Mom cell." I can still hear her voice calling ''Carie-kid," her nickname for me.
There is so much to tell her -- about the December 2004 birth of her first grandson, my nephew Cole Jude; about my graduation from business school; about the adventures of her dog, Naboo, on the shores of Mom's beloved Lake Cochituate. Conversations I will wait my entire life to have. But if I had my way, there is another conversation I wish she could have, one with our nation's leaders, one in which she gets a chance to remind them what her murder is all about rather than them telling us.
Since that day four long years ago, her death and the deaths of nearly 3,000 others have been at the heart of our national dialogue. ''9/11" has taken on many meanings: ''heroism," ''bravery," ''patriotism," and ''inclusiveness," among others. But more recently, that list includes ''division," ''partisanship," and ''exploitation."
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Americans had a united, community-oriented response. My co-worker waited more than 10 hours to donate blood. Politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, sang together on the steps of the Capitol. Millions of Americans donated money. Countless others, including my Framingham neighbors, cooked food for the victims' families. President Bush created the Freedom Corps, and Americans volunteered in their communities at unprecedented levels. Our country came together, as one giant family, in the wake of unthinkable tragedy.
As we move further from that moment, our response to the attacks has changed markedly. Instead of talking about our service to each other, our leaders are talking about our disdain for each other. Karl Rove says liberals wanted to offer therapy to the terrorists after 9/11. Democratic congresswoman Cynthia McKinney of Georgia campaigned at screenings of ''Fahrenheit 9/11."
September 11, which once united us, is now being used to divide us. And it leaves me feeling confused -- when we need unity to defeat the formidable enemies that threaten America, enemies that killed my mom, how can we turn against each other?
Imagine what we could accomplish if we maintained the unity and resolve of those post-9/11 days. If we brought a consensus-building approach to discussions about Social Security, Supreme Court justices, and the costly war in Iraq, our nation might be in a stronger, better place. We must remember in actions as well as words that public discourse and mutual respect are two liberties that make our country great.
When I was a little girl, my sister and I would fight. Mom did not make judgments about who was right or wrong. Instead, she made us hug and make up. ''Remember," Mom always said as we grimaced in our mandated bear hug, ''no matter what, you are always sisters, and that is the most important thing."
My mom suffered an unthinkable fate at the hands of madmen with no regard for life or human dignity, discussion, or discourse. Theirs was a cowardly act. If I am to find any meaning in it, it has to come from my response, and that of my fellow countrymen.
The opportunity for us to do that is here. Next week, the former 9/11 commissioners will release a ''report card" on our government's progress to make this country safer and more secure. Let's listen to them, and heed the advice of this bipartisan group. They have worked hard to identify problems, and come up with appropriate, balanced solutions. Let us commit not to allow their recommendations, whether about securing loose nukes or fixing congressional oversight of our homeland security, fall prey to politics as usual. Too much is at stake.
We have a responsibility to our fellow citizens to remember the lessons learned from 9/11 and pledge ourselves to bettering our country for all of our sakes. Let's listen and discuss, instead of accuse and blame. Let's be open-minded and welcoming, all the things those madmen wanted to destroy. Let's stop the internal warring going on in our own nation and come together to make it as great as it can be. Because, as my mom would remind our leaders, we are all Americans, and that is the most important thing.
Carie Lemack of Framingham is the co-founder of Families of Sept. 11 and was a member of the family steering committee of the 9/11 Commission. Her mother, Judy Larocque, was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11.