Amidst flags flowing at half staff, bells of remembrance rang at the Market Square where members of the Alexandria Community gathered for the seventh anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11.
"We lost our innocence," Mayor William D. Euille said in his opening remarks. "We learned that we were vulnerable."
"Total strangers were reminded what it is to be a citizen of these United States of America," Fire Chief Adam Thiel said in a statement reiterating the words that bring communities together every Sept. 11: "We cannot, must not and will never forget."
The ceremonial ringing of the bell heightened Thiel’s statement and provided some of the parents with a suitable occasion to relate its meaning to younger generations.
"It was an opportunity to teach her why we are so proud of our country," a young mother, who declined to be identified, said. "To be respectful and honor these people that fought for us."
But the attacks of Sept. 11 did not affect everyone in the same way and the shared interest to remain united has been gradually overshadowed by a diversity of views.
"The survival factor brings people together at a time of tragedy," Caressa Gibson, a member of the Armed forces, said. "However, the aftermath of the attacks gave way to discrimination against terrorist related religion and culture. Through education we can learn that no one culture or religion can be categorized as a terrorist."
Security measures such as the Patriot Act is another subject that has divided. "That day saddened me because afterwards I saw how readily people were willing to throw away their freedoms," William Basara, a government contractor said. "I strive to teach my children what the Constitution means and how others around the world wish for it to be destroyed."
When asked about the changes in views and attitudes of the population in general since the time of the attacks, Adrienne Jacoby, an Alexandria resident said "Like making a braid: we come together, then we separate. Woven together they are stronger than one strand by itself," she said. "We are one of the few countries that apply the individual over the collective."
According to Jacoby, it is cultural diversity and differences in political views that make the country strong.
Mayor Euille and representatives of the various emergency services rang the ceremonial bell. The distinct uniforms worn by the representatives from Fire, EMS, Police and the Sheriff’s Office were perhaps a silent reminder that, as Jacoby pointed out, what makes the country stronger is diversity, where the people’s freely expressed disparity of views is what distinguishes them as Americans.