Yahoo! is asking Americans how September 11 changed them. Below is an account from a reader.
It's harder for me than some and easier for me than most to write this reflection. I can barely remember what the world was like, that lifetime ago, despite the wounds that are still fresh for too many. It seems like a more innocent time in hindsight, but in reality, we were probably just ignorant of our vulnerability as a people then.
We have no such delusions anymore, however comforting they may have been. Yet we argue about how to go about this new reality, 10 years on. Some of us want to bring justice to those responsible and those who support them, others think we should withdraw and wall ourselves off from the larger world. Socially, religiously, economically, politically, racially, myriad schisms still divide us as a nation, at least as much as they did before 9/11. I'm having a hard enough time trying to figure out what we've learned and where we stand 10 years on. I'm having more trouble wondering where we go from here.
And then I think of the dead.
[Your story: How has September 11 changed you?]
I think of the people that day, trying to go to work and put food on the table, like most of us. People hustling to make a life in a land, that while not perfect, offered a chance for all to make a go of improving their lots. For approximately 3,000 people, that dream did not crumble with the towers, along with their lives. It lives on in those they left behind.
The numbers are staggering. You'll have to look elsewhere for the death toll. I still can't bear to look at the statistics. I was reading some remembrance recap today and something so simple, yet so profound occurred to me. People from more than 90 countries died together. They were Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and other religions many of us have never heard of. They were straight. They were gay. Military and civilian. They were Republicans, Democrats and the unaffiliated masses.
They died together, not people separated by genetics or personal practices, but as united souls. Many who died, did so trying to help others. The heroism of the Flight 93 passengers shows the unselfishness of those dying for people they had never, nor would ever, meet. That's just one example of hundreds. America was and is not perfect, but those from 90 countries who died, believed in the promise of America. They believed in honor and courage and it showed in infinite acts of heroism that day and in the days that followed.
My epiphany stems from the notion that all these people died trying to help one another, clinging for life together and dying in one another's arms. Does true unity and altruism only rear its head in the face of death or is this underlying bond of humanity something that is in us at all times, but goes largely ignored most days? I hope it's not either of those. If they could die together, we must live together.
We have to live every day like it might be our last one upon this earth. Our compassion should not just surface in catastrophic times. These better angels of our nature need to be present every day, in everything we do. We owe more than that to the dead and still dying. We owe more than that to the survivors and we owe more than that to each other. We have to stop blaming each other for being too hard, too easy, too something that we are not.
To do any less, dishonors those everymen and everywomen who went to work that day and never made it home. We owe it to those who rushed toward Ground Zero, while everyone else was running for their lives in the opposite direction. Many who made sure that other people got home, never made it back to their own. In that chaos and darkness, they never noticed each others' skin colors or religious symbols.
We must live the way they died. Holding on for dear life. Helping one another. Comforting one another. This is the way to honor what was best in those we have loved and lost. And we must hold it dear to our hearts for the rest of our days. For them. And for each other.