United We Stand: Remembering 9/11
“Time is passing. Yet, for the United States of America, there will be no forgetting September the 11th. We will remember every rescuer who died in honor. We will remember every family that lives in grief. We remember the fire and ash, the last phone calls, the funerals of children.”
- Former President George W. Bush
Seventeen years ago nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in the September 11th attacks. It’s difficult to wrap my head around how much time has passed because it feels like it happened so recently. Undoubtedly, the tragic day is one that none will forget, inscribing it’s horror on the hearts of humanity, like the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
September 11, 2001
The morning wasn’t hot. It was warm and sleepy with the slightest crisp chill of autumn caressing the gentle breeze. The sky west of New York City, a deep royal blue. From 10 miles away, standing on a highway overpass, I watched the second Tower fall, heated steel surrendering and buckling, like Atlas collapsing under the weight of the world, debris and concrete a gray plume reaching skyward. I screamed. At least I think I screamed. My mouth was slack-jawed in disbelief, my heart pounding, my stomach sinking, and my brain trying to convince the rest of my senses that what I saw didn’t happen. Salty tears and black eyeliner streamed down my cheeks. I couldn’t breathe. As the smoke wafted over New Jersey, it brought with it the acrid stench of destruction and death, an odor so strong, it makes the back of your throat sting with each breath. The New York City skyline was engulfed in fire, gigantic black, billowing pillars rising from Ground Zero.
When I arrived home, I immediately turned on the news and saw that the Pentagon had been attacked and Flight 93 was hijacked and had crashed, the heroes on board selflessly sacrificing their own lives to prevent more tragedy.
United We Stand
While this memory is brief and doesn’t capture the anxiety and loss of that day, this post’s intention is to focus on the days shortly after, when Americans rallied together and had a moment of unity. The outpouring of help profoundly inspiring. Firefighters and first responders from all over the US came to New York’s aid. Working gruesome shifts, they answered their call of duty, risking their own lives to help locate the missing and extinguish Ground Zero’s smoldering fire.
“September 11, 2001, revealed heroism in ordinary people who might have gone through their lives never called upon to demonstrate the extent of their courage.”
- Geraldine Brooks
In the wake of tragedy, a powerful wave of solidarity crashed along the murky shores of misfortune, temporarily drowning the pain. A fierce spirit ignited in us, compassionate, courageous, and empathetic, where we finally had some sort of understanding of our neighbor’s plight and respected it. There was a feeling of camaraderie, of connectedness. And it was beautiful. Strangers helped strangers without questioning. We cheered our everyday heroes - ordinary folks doing extraordinary things. And we sent a message to the rest of the world: try to knock us down and we’ll get back up again even stronger.
Remembering Those Lost
"Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim the spirit of unity that followed 9/11."
- former President Barak Obama
Let us remember those taken from us on 9/11 by revisiting that infectious spirit that pays good deeds and civility forward. Look up from your phone and smile at a stranger, buy someone in need a meal, help someone in need, or simply hold the door open for someone. Refrain from making a nasty comment online. Defend someone being bullied on social media. It doesn’t take much of your time to be kind to another person.
To the victims of this harrowing day and their families: we remember. And United We Stand.