On the eighth aniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, President Barack Obama and the entire presidential staff, from maintenance men and cooks to Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod, gathered on the South Lawn of the White House to remember.
The rain in Washington let up just before 8:46 a.m.—the time the first hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center—and the group stepped out for a brief moment of silence.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama then proceeded to the Pentagon, where the president, dressed in black, laid a wreath at the building's 9/11 memorial, and made somber, unusually religious remarks:
Eight Septembers have come and gone. Nearly 3,000 days have passed—almost one for each of those taken from us. But no turning of the seasons can diminish the pain and the loss of that day. No passage of time and no dark skies can ever dull the meaning of this moment.
So on this solemn day, at this sacred hour, once more we pause. Once more we pray — as a nation and as a people; in city streets where our two towers were turned to ashes and dust; in a quiet field where a plane fell from the sky; and here, where a single stone of this building is still blackened by the fires.
We remember with reverence the lives we lost. We read their names. We press their photos to our hearts. And on this day that marks their death, we recall the beauty and meaning of their lives; men and women and children of every color and every creed, from across our nation and from more than 100 others. They were innocent. Harming no one, they went about their daily lives. Gone in a horrible instant, they now "dwell in the House of the Lord forever."
We honor all those who gave their lives so that others might live, and all the survivors who battled burns and wounds and helped each other rebuild their lives; men and women who gave life to that most simple of rules: I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper.
We pay tribute to the service of a new generation—young Americans raised in a time of peace and plenty who saw their nation in its hour of need and said, "I choose to serve"; "I will do my part." And once more we grieve. For you and your families, no words can ease the ache of your heart. No deeds can fill the empty places in your homes. But on this day and all that follow, you may find solace in the memory of those you loved, and know that you have the unending support of the American people.
Scripture teaches us a hard truth. The mountains may fall and the earth may give way; the flesh and the heart may fail. But after all our suffering, God and grace will "restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." So it is — so it has been for these families. So it must be for our nation.
Of course, 9/11 is a day of reflection for all Americans. And Obama has used the "brother's keeper" language of the Bible before—most recently to a conference call of faith leaders in support of health care. But it's hard to think of another speech to a non religious group that has been so Christian.
Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.