The last 5 months have gone by incredibly fast and incredibly slow for me, if that makes sense. So many things continue to change, and at a sustained pace I don’t recall seeing in the past. Amidst that backdrop, I’ve been thinking about 9/11 and what it means to me and to the country as a whole.
It seems impossible to me that we’re only one year away from 2 decades since the twin towers fell. Growing up in New York, the towers were an iconic part of the skyline. They’ve certainly been replaced by iconic structures that help us remember that day. And yet, I’m reminded of the towers, whether it’s in an old movie or a piece of art depicting the Manhattan skyline that hangs in our home. Could it really be 19 years later?
Life can sometimes have a funny way of placing us somewhere at just the right time. I was driving from Michigan home to Virginia for an unscheduled trip, just the day prior to 9/11 this year. It was 22 hours on the road over the span of two days to and from Michigan, at a time of the year when I’d normally be on an airplane. As I crossed from Ohio into Pennsylvania I almost missed the small sign noting the exit for the Flight 93 Memorial. We visited the memorial five years ago as a family. Driving past that sign instantly brought back powerful memories of that day. Of the cold wind and rain as we paid tribute to those that lost their lives in a singular act of bravery. Of our tears being added to millions more shed on that site. It’s a trip we need to take again so that our children can more fully understand the place that day occupies in our history.
As our kids have grown up, I’ve started to understand more about the importance of making sure future generations comprehend the history associated with 9/11. In those first days after the tragedy, we didn’t know if things would ever be the same. Would we fly again? If so, when? What would it look like? How would we protect ourselves? After some period of time, the additional security efforts we deal with on a daily basis became “normal”. Sure, we can complain about the TSA, but that’s not what I’m thinking about today.
I’m thinking that it’s important today, 19 years later, to remember. Maybe even more important now as the most painful memories fade. Because, along with all of the people that perished in New York on September 11th, 2001, there were 40 people aboard Flight 93 that helped prevent 9/11 from being even worse than it was. There are plenty of storylines about whether 93 was headed for the US Capitol Building, the White House or other such targets. Regardless, it was headed somewhere, and the loss of lives would almost certainly have been higher had it not been for the bravery of those passengers and crew aboard Flight 93 to fight back. Their goal was to protect people they didn’t even know, would never know because of their heroic actions.
There is no more selfless act than to do give your life to protect someone else’s, even more so when you don’t know those you’re protecting. For that, I’m eternally grateful for those passengers and crew on Flight 93. And, to the first responders who ran upstairs in two burning buildings in lower Manhattan, knowing they were putting their lives at risk.
At a time when there’s so much pain in the world, remembering those who lost their lives 19 years ago today might feel like another entry in a ledger filled with sadness. Yet, if I think of those who sacrificed that day, I think about how we could take just a small piece of inspiration from them and apply it ourselves.
Call me crazy, but what if we all started our day on 9/11 looking for a way to help someone else, without recognition? A small gesture as silent recognition of those that sacrificed much more than us. That would be one great day.