Image by Matthias Rosenkranz via Flickr
Ten years ago today, I was home with my 2-year-old and infant. A couple of weeks earlier, our family had moved back to the USA after living in Central Europe for 5 years, traveling through New York City on our way home. We were still getting over reverse culture shock and learning to live within our own home culture once more.
With the rest of the country, I watched in disbelief as we realized that the first plane that had hit the World Trade Center Towers was not an accident. The second plane plowed into the Towers, and our country changed forever. We had been in wars, we had dealt with terrorism, but we had never had our civilian population attacked on such a scale before. We were a nation in shock, who soon came together to say, “We are one.”
The reverberations of that day still effect us, from Afghanistan and Iraq to the security procedures at the airport. We will never forget. We will never feel invulnerable.
As I reflect on that day, there are specific ideas that stay with me. They are:
- Life is unpredictable. We don’t know when we go to work or kiss our loved one good-bye and board a plane what the day may hold for us, how it may end as we least expected. This reminds me to live each day to the fullest. J.R.R. Tolkien says through a character in The Fellowship of the Ring, “All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.” I want to make the most of mine, to look back with no regrets.
- Relationships are precious. I want to nurture those in my life that are positive, and spend time with those I love. Forget all of the material things that we can spend so much of our life seeking to acquire. In the face of our last moments, they mean nothing. What we long for, what we look to is those we love.
- Hate is poisonous. I will not allow hatred to poison my heart, to allow me to look at another human being with no empathy, no sympathy. The power of love can conquer hate, if we choose to allow it into our hearts. What the terrorists of 9/11 did was horrendous, reprehensible, but we have not let their hate define us. We have moved forward, and as a country we will continue to do so. I believe that after the initial rage, many Americans sought to understand what would lead young men to commit such an atrocious act of terrorism, to foster connections with those who they do not understand. Hate does not have the final say, not now, not ever.
- Greatness if found in unity. The diversity in our country makes us strong, but it can also cause separation. We tend to fear and dislike that which is different. But during the days after 9/11, this country came together in a way that was beautiful and profound. Rather than crumbling like that giant, spoiled, soft baby that the terrorist had claimed we were, we stood together in strength. Divisiveness does not serve us well. Even now, we forget the message that we found greatness in unity and allow our differences to separate us. Our country needs to come together, to find the common good and beliefs that we do share and discuss our differences civilly. We are not a soft, pampered, weak child, and we need to remember not to act like one.
- Beauty and bravery are found in common places. The courage of the security guards in the twin towers who continued to help people as the building crumbled, of the firefighters and police officers who worked tirelessly even after losing many of their own, of the common man and woman who stepped out and helped a stranger, these say more about humanity than the confused young men who sought to make a statement by killing innocent people. Life is not about gaining power or proving your strength over another. Life is about living so that you make this world a better place. There are numerous heroes of 9/11, common men and women going about their common days who decided to make uncommon choices in order to save and help others. That is who we are.