It’s hard for me to imagine that fifteen years have already passed since the New York skyline was streaming with smoke and two gleaming symbols of American might were torn asunder. In many ways, the destruction the world witnessed on September 11, 2001 spelled the end of humanity’s innocence. Millions of people all around the world watched in abject horror as shattered glass, building debris, and the bodies of living human beings rained down on the panic-choked streets of Manhattan.
Although I was thousands of miles away at the time, I’ll never forget how it felt that day. Unable to tear my eyes away from the television as the tragic scenes from New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. played out on the screen, I felt intense and unrelenting waves of disbelief, anger, and grief. On that one fateful day, nearly 3,000 innocent men, women, and children lost their lives because of the hate, intolerance, and arrogance of a very few. What struck me as being especially bitter, however, was the death of over 400 of our finest first responders, our fire fighters and police officers. It was they who made the greatest sacrifice—for they were ones who rushed into the fray for the sole purpose of saving the lives of others.
In my community, the fire department honors the loss of these responders every September 11th by placing a small flag with a biographical profile for each on the firehouse lawn. Impressed by the display on our way by last night, my son and I stopped for a few moments to pay our respects. As I made my way slowly through the hundreds of flags, I thought about these fine men and women, their surviving colleagues, friends, and families. I could scarcely imagine the horrors they experienced that day and my heart was filled to overflowing with compassion for all of them.
When I awakened to a perfect, brilliantly blue sky this morning and thought about how I felt, the word “cathartic” immediately came to mind. It’s not a word I usually use and, to be quite honest, I had to look it up to be sure what it meant. The dictionary generally defines “cathartic” as a purging or releasing of emotional tensions. The Greek root meaning for this word is something on the order of “cleansing”. I’m not exactly sure why, but I felt the word was perfect for the way I felt. For some reason, I felt a strange and profound sense of peace over the events that occurred fifteen years ago today.
As I sometimes do on this day, I sat down to watch the movie, “World Trade Center”, starring Nicholas Cage and Michael Peña. It’s the true story of New York Port Authority Police Sergeant John McLoughlan and Officer Will Jimeno, both of whom became trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center when the Twin Towers fell. Both survived and were rescued, rather miraculously it seems, by two former U.S. Marines who were unofficial volunteers at the site. As I watched the movie again, this time I was able to see it through a slightly different viewpoint than I ever have before. Today, I saw it through the eyes of one who has been spiritually healed.
I suddenly realized that, for me, the cause of this tragedy didn’t matter nearly so much as the fact that millions of people from across the globe came together as one family—all of them filled with Love and Compassion for so many others who were suffering.
At the end of the movie, Sergeant McLoughlan (played by Nicholas Cage) narrates over scenes of a reunion party that was held two years after his rescue. As he and Officer Jimeno are welcomed by their guests and loved ones at the reunion, Sergeant McLoughlan says, “Nine-eleven showed us what human beings are capable of. The evil? Yeah, sure. But it also brought out the goodness we forgot could exist. People taking care of each other; for no other reason than it was the right thing to do. It’s important for us to talk about that good. To remember. ‘Cause I saw a lot of good that day.”
To this day, I’m humbled and amazed at the resilience and strength of the human spirit. I’m held in utter awe by the selfless courage and compassion of those who risked and lost everything for the sake of people they didn’t even know. That is the face and future of humanity. That is the hope for a new world—and it’s one where such cruelty and such heroism need never be repeated. As compassionate human beings, we can rise above the differences that separate us.
We are one people, one spirit, one family. And it’s long past time we started acting that way.
Please feel free to redistribute, repost, or otherwise share this post, providing it is credited to https://rememberinginfinity.wordpress.com.