Over the last 11 years, we have been inundated with images of mighty buildings burning and collapsing thunderously to Earth. We have heard the many voices and seen the many images of those who would never know their place in history or of the honor their sacrifice brought humanity. We have been swept up in scenes of unspeakable violence, and of indescribable tragedy. We have seen the bravery of a few rushing in to save the many, and we have seen countless tears wash the whitened and bloodied faces of those that were left behind. We have touched fragments of steel, some charred and blackened with evidence of both the best and worst that humans have to offer. As that date comes within reach, we solemnly remember the cause for which we stand in the quest of living up to our ideals even when our innocence is shattered and our character tested.
September 11th is, for me, about honoring those who sacrificed so much in the service of their fellow man. As a firefighter, I have a certain love of those who would give it all to help a total stranger. I can relate somewhat to the fear those responders in Manhattan felt climbing step after step toward their destiny. I can feel the fatigue as they deliberately continued upward toward greatness. I can sense their call to duty, the unrelenting and unmistakable love in their hearts that drove them beyond the limitations of body and mind. Their minds did the thinking, their bodies did the work, but it was their souls that lifted them up beyond mortality.
9/11 to me is not about the attacks. It is not about the twisted remnants of great buildings. It is not about the fear, or the anger, or the loss. It is about the love. It is about giving. It is about the best that man has to offer one another. It is about the power of purpose and the sheer greatness of will that makes us who we are. 9/11 to me is not about terror, it is about the unmistakable and undeniable love that unites us all when we no longer are focused on those ideas that divide us.
Responders entering those towers on 9/11 were not American. They were human. They did not help other Americans, they helped people. They did not check voter registration cards, or immigration status, or the bank statements of those they were there to help. They carried with them an air pack, an ax, and left their ideologies and prejudices in their lockers back at the station. Black, white, brown, yellow, green, purple, orange…whatever you were didn’t matter because they were going to get you out or die trying regardless of it all. Your burka was irrelevant, your crucifix meaningless. Where and if you prayed and what language you spoke had no bearing on the day. What defined you and them was something much deeper than those meaningless ideas that are ordinarily used to define and divide each of us. For all, it was their finest hour not defined by anything else other than selfless service and unbridled compassion.
Yes, that is what I want to remember about 9/11.
I also remember 9/11 by not forgetting 9/12. I remember a people united in a common cause of service bound by something far greater than patriotism, or nationality, or faith. I remember long lines where people of all sizes, shapes, colors, languages and faiths stood together to give blood, sweat, money or just a piece of themselves in a common cause of service. I remember arms outstretched not to take, but to give. I had never in my life witnessed or experienced such a large and universal outpouring of selfless love from complete and utter strangers as I had on 9/12. I was extremely happy to be alive, and I was extremely grateful for those who had led the way and set the example just the day before.
Today, as I view the time since such an compassion and humanity was on full display for the world to see, I see the yin of those two days and the yang we have fallen into since. We have again become a nation divided by petty ideals and worship of money. We have again forgotten our brother, our sister, and they seem to have forgotten us. We have thrown away some of our humanity to fear, and we have allowed ourselves as victim to become the victimizer. So this anniversary to me is about refocusing and this day about dedication. I want to feel again the nature of the firefighter rushing up thousands of steps toward the needy arms of a total stranger. I want to feel again the weight of that stranger on my shoulder as I carry them back down. I don’t want to honor the scrap of metal until I can honor the deep love that showed itself as the best version of who we are on a day that began with the worst version of who we are. I want to love and be loved without condition…again. I want to be carried and to carry, to save and be saved, and I want to give it up to you, a person I may have never met in this existence.
So, I remember 9/11 and 9/12. Not the dates. Not the twisted and burning buildings. Not the flag-draped stokes baskets carrying the remains of the best of us. I remember something so much deeper in the hopes that this time I may never forget.