Have we forgotten?

In February of 2019, I was fortunate enough to fly to New York City for a work trip. I admittedly had trepidations prior to my visit, which is really unlike me when I travel. I had never been to a city this large and the vastness of it all intimidated me a bit. While I’ve lived in a few large cities, I’m really more of a country girl and prefer the wide open spaces. I suppose I also watch too many crime shows that take place in NYC and was nervous I’d get mugged or worse while walking around by myself. New Yorkers are also not portrayed in the nicest ways so I went with preconceived notions running around in my head.

View from my hotel room at the Millennium Hilton New York One UN Plaza.

The trip was magical, especially for an amateur photographer. I clocked over 30 miles on my Fitbit between appointments and, after my work day was done, I took hundreds of pictures with my Nikon and my cell phone. I didn’t want to miss anything. I wanted to experience it all.

While I would have loved to see a Broadway show, the one thing I knew I had to experience when I arrived in the city happened on my last day.

On February 7, 2019, a little before dusk, I took an Uber two miles to the memorial site and museum dedicated to those who lost their lives at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. When I arrived, I walked around the dedication to those lost on that horrific day 20 years ago. Decisions made by those trapped due to the location of the airplanes flying into the buildings were even more impactful when I saw the vastness of the area and could see for myself the height of the adjacent One World Trade Center next door to the memorial. It was apparent for me that I was standing not only on a memorial site but also on an unconventional cemetery dedicated to 2,977 individuals, some who died there and others who lost their lives in Shanksville, PA, and Washington, D.C.

When I entered the 9/11 Museum, I saw the familiar remnants of the building and reminders of that day. The steel beams, the staircase, and the remains of the Ladder 3 Fire Truck left an image in my mind I will not soon forget.

Seeing the smiling faces of those lost that day through photos on a seemingly never-ending wall and hearing the recordings of their voices from messages left on phones or answering machines, struck me with a grief I was not prepared for and I had the desire to run away. I didn’t KNOW these people but I DID know them as my fellow American citizens and people from across the globe who innocently started their day that quickly ended in unforeseen tragedy and loss.

When you’re young and learning about history in school, you tend to read the few paragraphs in your assigned text book and move on without much feeling. I’m sure I was that way when I learned about World War One, the holocaust, and the Vietnam War. Being married to a Vietnam Veteran for 22 years opened my eyes to the true impact on someone who lived it. The same can be said for those in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, who were there and saw things unfold before their eyes. I only saw it on the screen and know the impact it had on me.

Twenty years later, many people seem to have the desire to sweep that tragic day under the rug, but I believe it is imperative we continue to honor this day, those lost, and those who will suffer for years to come. In the words of Spanish philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” which was later paraphrased by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

So many young people living today have no memory of that time, as they were very young or they were not yet born and the anniversary of 9/11 is the only time they learn of the tragedies of that fateful day in America. People read the names, share the stories of their own loved ones, and bells are rung to signify the times of those four horrible incidents in our history, when planes were taken over by terrorists hell-bent on destroying the U.S.A. A field in the Pennsylvania countryside memorializes the heroes who lost their lives while bravely taking on these evil people, so that more tragedy did not take place in our nation’s capital.

For those of you who CAN remember, do you recollect that day? What about September 12? We seemed to all become ONE America. Certainly, flying an American flag in our front yards was an easy way to show our patriotism, but we did it. We did it because we were unsure what else to do. Many young people enlisted, many wrote songs, and still others vowed to not take their lives for granted and do good things.

Sadly, I have not felt that we are acting like it. I have seen, read, and heard more divided conversations today than I can remember in my 57 years on this earth. We are BETTER than this but we seem to have a my way or the highway mentality. I ask you, where does that get you?

Years ago, I took the Stephen Covey course, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of those habits stands out for me today. It is seek first to understand, then to be understood. We all fall short of that philosophy, but I beckon us to do better, to be better. Because we disagree on a topic doesn’t mean one side is wrong and the other side is right. Seldom are things black and white. We all have life events that affect our thinking. Putting everyone in the same category because we choose to do something or not to do something is wrong and unfair, in my humble opinion.

Today, I am struggling with people putting me in a specific category who know nothing about my situation. Sadly, I haven’t said anything to those individuals because I have seen their responses on social media about similar topics and I truly believe they will judge me because they are not willing to listen to my side of the story, so I remain quiet.

A few years ago, I heard former Mayor Rudy Giuliani say, “America was at its best that day.” While I know we can’t always stop tragedies like the one that happened two decades ago on what started out as a beautiful September morning, we can and should come together as Americans without having to rely on a tragedy to make it so.

One of the photos I took in Central Park in New York City struck me that day and is a continued reminder for me of the tragedies that fell upon our country 20 years ago. I have no idea who the gentleman was that is standing with his back to me on a rock in the park, but seeing him look towards the skyline, I wondered who stood there on September 11, 2001, and what were they thinking?

I pray it doesn’t take another incident like 9/11 to remind us of how little time we have on this earth. I have said this before and I try to make it my mantra for life. “This is the only life we’re blessed to have. I want to get out and explore and know I really lived.”

I encourage you to live your dash. I remind you to never forget.

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