As I reflected on 9/11, as many of my friends did over social media recently, I appreciated all of the kind, heartfelt posts remembering that day and the loss of so many loved ones.
It was a time that we truly felt our security and safety were threatened, feeling scared, hopeless, and even defeated as the attacks unraveled throughout the day. The men and women lost that day will always be remembered and the traumatic impact on the survivors has been realized over the past 15 years.
These thoughts made me wonder about the way we all state that “we remember,” recounting our stories of where we were, who we knew, how it changed our lives, and how many people responded so bravely and paid the ultimate sacrifice. We remember because there is no way to forget an event like that. But what concerns me lately is that there is a lot we have truly forgotten about that tragedy.
When I think of 9/11, I also remember the weeks and months after the attacks when the world kept on turning; we carried on with our lives, and in the initial shock of this devastating event found something we had been missing—kindness toward one another.
I always think of going into New York two months after the attacks and noticing how the entire city felt different. It was busy, but did not seem as frantic. There was traffic without the constant sound of horns and sirens. People made eye contact with each other as they passed on the street, held doors open for each other, and all returned to their daily lives with a shared sense of knowing that they had survived a great tragedy. It somehow made us stop and think before we judged or degraded each other. It made us united and it made us respect each other, even if we had different opinions, backgrounds or interests.
I noticed this nearly every day, no matter where I went. People shared stories and tears about it; they hugged and comforted each other. People rallied for benefits, volunteered with search and cleanup efforts, returned to things that brought them comfort such as faith and personal wellness, attended to their families more, and realized the impact this event had on the way they were living their lives.
People wrote stories, songs and movies, and tried to embrace the way they felt and connect with millions of other Americans through ways they knew best: People called each other on the phone, reached out to each other, and respected that we now all shared this tragic history. I would like to believe that if social media had existed at the time it would have been messages of support, love and kindness just as those heartbreaking last phones calls were from the victims that day to their families and loved ones.
Many of the things we felt in the aftermath of 9/11 have been forgotten. We remember the day and the people, but we don’t truly honor the time after that day and the values that we held so dearly for a short time. We judge each other every day, argue over insignificant things on social media, put each other down, shame each other, bully each other, and concentrate more on material things than quality relationships.
We do not value each other as we did 15 years ago. Our nation is instead very much divided and it should not take only heartbreak and tragedy to help us to find kindness. We seem to no longer look to connect with others and I think that all of the people we remember on this day would have wanted us to be better people than this.
That is the real challenge, isn’t it? How do we do that? How do we all stop spreading negativity and embrace each other in unity? I only know that it starts with a choice that each one of us makes as an individual. We are still going to be human and flawed, but choosing to try to remember what it felt like in those days, weeks, and months after that day…it is a place to begin again. It is my hope that we can.
Author: Dorinda Burnham
Image: Paul L/Flickr
Editor: Travis May