I remember the exact moment I found out two planes had hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I was getting ready for the day and for some reason I didn’t have the morning news on as I usually did. I was calling a friend’s spa to make an appointment and when the receptionist answered, she sounded extremely distraught. “Can you believe what’s happening in the city? It’s as if the world is ending!” Having no idea what she was talking about, I asked her to explain. As soon as she said to commercial airplanes had hit the World Trade Centers and our government was saying it was a terrorist attack, I immediately turned on the television. The picture appeared just in time for me to see the first building fall. As I stared in horror at what I was witnessing, there was only one person who came to mind; my brother. He was a lieutenant for the FDNY and I did not know if he was working that day. My heart raced as I dialed his number, and I felt instantly watch over me as I heard his voice answer. We spoke for a moment or two, and when I asked him what he thought about the possibility of the second building coming down, he simply said, “it’s not good.”
We all know what happened that day… The second building did fall, bringing thousands of innocent people with it and turning them into dust. Our country was no longer exempt from terrorist attacks, and America’s emotional landscape had changed forever. In the days following 9/11, a change that touched me deeply was perhaps one of subtlety, or so I viewed it at the time. It was really more of a shift than a change. I live in a small town about 70 miles northwest of New York City. Overall, it’s a very friendly place, one of those small communities where everybody knows everyone else. there was still, however, your usual human inpatients and as individuals, people generally had a rush focused for their own daily agenda. After 9/11, all of that suddenly went away. Things move slower. People move slower. It was as if everyone was taking the time to actually enjoy the process of whatever their day consisted of by living in the moment instead of simply rushing to get to the next thing that they would then rush to get to the next thing and so on and so on, until they flopped into bed at night utterly exhausted, only to do it again the next day. Folks also started taking the time to be aware of not only their own moment to moment existence, but their fellow human being’s existence and circumstance. Our world became more about what we could do for others instead of what we could do for ourselves.
in the 12 years since 9/11, the feeling of unity and possessing a heart to heart connection for one another has frayed at the edges and continues to do so at an accelerating rate. Why does it seem that only through tragedy we are enabled to open our eyes to the circumstances of another’s existence, instead of being interested in agendas that only benefit ourselves? It is shamefully disrespectful to forget the live lost from 9/11 and any other military intervention where Americans have sacrificed their lives and limbs to ensure we go to bed at night tucked in by a blanket of freedom. Regardless of yearly memorials and pledges of “we will never forget”, we forget them every time we treat our fellow human beings with indifference or intolerance. I wager, however, that the families of the fallen heroes need no reminder and never will. It’s scary to think we as individuals each have to experience intimate loss, grief and suffering before we can make treating one another with kindness and empathy the norm instead of the exception.