What new can I add to the reflections of Sept. 11, 2001, that have not already been said?
As the passage of time further separates us from the horrific events of that day, there is a part of me that does not want to remember, but I know that is not possible. Like Pearl Harbor, and the assassinations of President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 9/11 stands as a defining moment to all of the generations that intersect at that space in history. There are few events that freeze time and suspend reality, but that is what 9/11 did. 9/11 is etched in the minds of all who witnessed that moment.
But what are we supposed to do with those memories?
Powerful events serve to define us as individuals and as a country. Good and bad events will move us in ways we are most likely unprepared for. Often when people speak of 9/11 they talk about where they were or what they were doing when the tragedy unfolded before their eyes. For almost all of us, the reflections of that day are as witnessed from a distance. Touched, certainly, but in many regards able to move on, to get back to normal. There is nothing wrong with that; it is human nature.
Yet, for the families of the 2,996 peopled murdered on 9/11, the sorrow of that day never fades. For those who have lost a loved one, the anniversary of their passing affects us, but usually it is a private memory. For the families of 9/11 victims, their grief is shared publicly every year, whether they want it to be or not.
Some would say a life extinguished before its time has a greater effect than we will ever know. As much as I would like to forget what happened on 9/11, I know I am honor bound to remember the events out of respect for those who lost their lives that day. We cannot live their lives, but we should never forget we have an obligation to keep the promise of their lives in our hearts. We touch people’s lives every day in ways we will never know, every encounter an opportunity to be kind or indifferent.
A few years ago, author William Least Heat-Moon took a long car trip. As he has done in the past, Heat-Moon made it a habit to ask himself an interesting question in an effort to keep himself from falling asleep at the wheel. During this trip he asked himself, “How many people would I meet if I lived to age 90?” Heat-Moon defined a meeting as “a face-to-face exchange containing a clear, if momentary, recognition” between himself and another person. He set the range from something as simple as a wave or a greeting, all the way to a lifelong friendship. However, Heat-Moon put the qualification that each person could only count once toward the total. Ask that question to yourself and what do you think the answer would be?
Think for a moment how many people you have already touched in your life, and how many more are waiting in your future. The 2,996 people who died on 9/11 were not just lost to their friends and families, but lost to millions. Heat-Moon’s casual calculation suggested had he lived to 90, he would have met 100,000 people. Applying that to the 2,996 souls lost on 9/11, and we realize that 299,600,000 people were deprived of the opportunity of knowing those who were lost on 9/11. People like New York police officer Moira Smith.
Officer Smith served for 13 years on the NYPD, was married to a fellow NYPD officer, and had a 2-year-old daughter on the day of 9/11. On Aug. 27, 1991, Smith demonstrated heroism when her actions during a subway accident saved dozens of lives. For her bravery on Aug. 27, she received the NYPD Distinguished Duty Medal. However, Smith was not done being a hero.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Smith was one of many who ran into the World Trade Center to help as many as they could. Witness accounts talk about how Smith selflessly risked her life over and over, carrying people out of the World Trade Center, and then running back into the building. On Sept. 11, 2001, Smith lost her life, but not before she helped those in need. In her brief time on earth, Smith showed how each of us can make a difference every day.
Smith was not the only hero on that day. There were many more who entered the World Trade Center, or ran into the Pentagon, or stormed the cockpit of United Flight 93. When I remember 9/11, I will never forget the horror, but I will also never forget the heroism and sacrifice of those who did not witness the events from afar, but touched the lives of others surrounded by the chaos that day. I know there are thousands of people who have been deprived of the chance to meet Smith. I also know that on 9/11, there were a few people blessed to have met her, even if for a brief moment. In the smoke, confusion and horror, people like Smith made a difference.
Today, you are blessed because you are alive. Like Smith, we have the opportunity to make a difference. No matter how big or small, we honor those lost on 9/11 by selflessly serving others, to simply try to make a positive difference in the lives of all those we meet. That is what we do with the memories of 9/11.