Where were you on September 11, 2001?
I was a sophomore in college and getting ready for class when I received a call from my Dad. He had an uncharacteristically somber tone in his voice and said something like “NYC was just attacked! Turn on the TV!”
The next several hours were spent feverishly pouring over all the reports, images, videos, and live feeds covering the horrific events.
I felt amazed, confused, anxious, and terrified.
I recall the horror as I watched live footage of the cataclysmic fall of each tower with the sobering realization that thousands of people were still inside. I remember the disturbing images of people jumping to their deaths in a desperate final attempt to escape the burning buildings . Reports of other planes being hijacked in real-time sent shivers up my spine. The unfortunate demise of flight 93 after the heroic attempts by its passengers to upend its ultimate trajectory was both devastating and humbling.
The smoke, the dust-covered New Yorkers, the terror in the voices of the news reporters.
The ugliness of the day remains vividly painted in my mind.
However. equally as poignant are the images of human goodness that arose quicker than the towers fell. Strangers helping strangers. People helping people. Literal offerings of blood, sweat, and tears. Food, water, money, prayers, and anything else people were able to freely give.
For the first time in my life and the last time since, it felt as if we as a nation were one. One in purpose, one in harmony, one in empathy, one in love. Differences in race, nationality, religion, gender, social class, etc. seemed to evaporate. There was an overwhelming sense of calm that enveloped our world as we embraced one another in brotherhood and sisterhood. It was a feeling I’ll always remember.
19 years later that sense of unity has long since evaporated. We are divided on every point, principle, and perspective imaginable. Hate, prejudice, and fear-mongering are the themes that dominate our national conversation. Attempts at empathetically considering divergent opinions are not only vanishing but being met with swift contempt.
What has happened? Can we ever get back to the ‘best of humanity’ we experienced on September 11, 2001?
My hope is that that precipice is still within our reach and that, next time, it won’t require a life-altering catastrophic set of events to get us there.
No matter your political affiliation, these words from Barack Obama, offered in remembrance of 9/11 back in 2011 offer a hint of the simplicity of that path. The question is, are we willing? Does a collective desire to make the leap exist?
I hope so.
"Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11." - Barack Obama