Few will forget where they were, or what they were doing, 17 years ago today. As I was driving to work this morning I reflected on that morning and the years that have passed since. I can remember it in extraordinary detail. I remember who I was with, emotions, sounds, smells, colors, all of it. My #1 rule in life is: never assume you’ve had a worse day then the next person; it helps put things in perspective. And on that morning, I personally know people who lost it all.
Over the years I’ve chosen to focus on stories that demonstrate the better side of humanity. If you don’t, the spectre of evil wins.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”
– Edmund Burke
The post 9/11 world is multi-generational. I was in the military when the attacks happened and on a flight from the east to west coast. We landed in Houston dazed by a surrealness I had never experienced. Most people seemed to be in different stages of fear and shock. A young woman approached me and asked when the flights would resume. I asked why she thought I knew. My blue Air Force uniform made her think I was a commercial airline pilot. Another, much older woman, embraced me and told me, “we’ll need you now.” Perhaps she was part of that “greatest generation” who knew what lay ahead. Fast forward to today, in an experience that so many have lived, my youngest son who was five at the time, now serves in the Army in a military that continues a flight to protect us all. His mission was written that day; a day he was likely riding his bike or playing tag with friends.
Several years ago a colleague and native New Yorker drove me around lower Manhattan and described her experience. But her story was not of horror or destruction. She remembered the kindness of neighbors and the warmth of those around her. How they helped her (she was pregnant at the time); how her pet was rescued; how people of all races, nationalities, and backgrounds selflessly came together to help one another. As I listened to her, she spoke with pride. Pride of how people behaved and proud of how her city had overcome.
There are so many stories like my colleague’s, but I worry as time passes that the memories will become more distant, generations will become desensitized to conflict or, most importantly, they will forget what we experienced and learned that day: that tragedy can awaken the best part of the human spirit. My wish for all of us is we continue to remember this day, not for the fear and sadness it inflicted, but for the stories of heroism, bravery and kindness it brought out in each of us. Let time go by, let the reflections take on new meaning, but let us never forget.