“It’s an extraordinary tale … of resilience, of survival, of courage, of love. For me, this is the legacy of 9/11.” – Gédéon Naudet
All morning, I’ve been seeing memes on social media: pictures from September 11, 2001, with the caption “never forget.”
Those of us who were around on that day will never forget what we heard and saw. For me, it happened like this: I was at my desk in my office at Lake Superior State University. I received an email from a friend in New Jersey saying that one of the trade towers had been hit by a plane. I responded, “What a horrible accident.”
I knew that commercial planes were not allowed to fly at low altitude over NYC, so I assumed it was some small, private craft that had accidentally crashed, possibly injuring or killing the pilot. Certainly such an event would be an accident.
My friend emailed me again (keep in mind, these were the days before social media as we know it now). “The other tower has been hit by another plane!” she said. “There’s speculation that it’s a terrorist attack! Get to a television!”
I quickly opened my internet and looked on cnn.com. I couldn’t make sense of what I was reading there. These *were* commercial planes, planes that had been hijacked? Well then, of course the hijackers would have let the passengers off (it was their suicide mission, after all). But no, innocent, everyday people had been on those planes, and had lost their lives. As had many in the towers, and on the ground.
I ran over to the library, where a television had been set up on the first floor. Dozens were crowded around, watching the news unfold, all in a state of disbelief. We couldn’t even get our heads around what was happening, because it was unthinkable. When the first tower collapsed, someone said “you guys, we just watched hundreds of people die.”
It doesn’t seem like 16 years ago. It seems like yesterday.
So, back to my original question: what, exactly, should we “never forget?” That day, many of us felt a hatred and anger we’d never experienced before, a desire for revenge, for retribution. There was fear, and rage, and despair. But then, something else happened.
We saw our country, and the whole world, come together in a spirit of community. “Look for the helpers,” Mr. Rogers always said, and they were everywhere: handing bottled water and sandwiches to exhausted rescue crews, donating to charities for the victims’ families, honoring public servants. For a time, we were kinder to each other. Small disagreements seemed petty. We found safety and peace in the idea that most people are good, and look out for each other.
As you go through this day, people will tell you to “never forget.” You can choose what you will remember from that sunny, blue-sky day when everything changed forever. Some will choose to remember the rage, the cries for revenge, the hatred. As for me, I remember the kindness, the love, the sense of community that unfolded before my eyes. Our nation was weakened that day, but we found our strength.
That community can still be our strength.
Stay in the light,