As flags flew at half-staff and various military and first-responder organizations held memorial ceremonies last week, I thought about what Sept. 11 means to me. If you are of the "America, love it or leave it" persuasion, you might want to stop reading now.

What happened on Sept. 11, 2001, was an atrocity that caused the tragic loss of many innocent lives. There was also much heroism on the part of police and firefighters, and ordinary people as well. All deserve to be remembered with gratitude; all deserve to be honored.

But I can't help feeling that with the world, if anything, even more dangerous and with terrorism even more rampant than before the 9-11 attacks, we have not learned much as a nation in the last 18 years. We certainly have not learned the lessons of humility and compassion Sept. 11 should have taught us.

We have not taken a hard look at how our foreign policy over the decades created the poverty and hopelessness, the sense of utter alienation, that led to the terrorist movements now active in the Middle East and elsewhere, and fueled their rise. We have not worked hard to foster an attitude of openness and welcome toward Muslim citizens in our own country, never mind those around the globe. We still fail to see that our own fate is tied to that of people living amid poverty and violence around the world and here at home.

I'm no foreign policy expert, and I know that international issues almost never yield to simple solutions, but I'm sure that trying to move beyond simply seeing as enemies those who may wish us harm is an important first step. If the United States could rebuild Germany and Japan after World War II, maybe it could do something for the struggling peoples of the Middle East. I'm not talking about military aid, or any other kind of quick fix, but long-term humanitarian help that begins with listening to their assessment of the problems, as well as their hopes. I know it's not clear-cut, that the problems are complex and getting help to those most in need can be very difficult. But I also know we could — and should — be trying harder.

At the least, we can work at changing our own attitudes towards people with different religious practices and values from ours. Because we still have more in common with them than we have differences. We all want enough food, adequate shelter, a safe place to sleep, to care for our families, a sense of hope for our lives and those of our children.

Among my first thoughts on the first 9-11, once I knew my own beloved was safe, was what a terrible indictment of the United States it was that anyone would feel so much anger and resentment toward our country as to attack us in that way. It was not an indictment of the innocents who were killed aboard the planes, or in the buildings that were destroyed, nor of the many who put themselves in harm's way to rescue others.

But it was the product of a deep, long-festering rage at a rich, often arrogant country that for too many decades refused to consider the lives of people outside its own borders as important as strategic advantage and corporate profits.

We have since reaped the whirlwind. I hope we can find the wisdom to stop it.