Friday, September 16, 2011

We Remember

9/11 StampWe Remember

Where were you on 9/11?  For most of us the answers are permanently etched in our minds.  Like the attack on Pearl Harbor and VE Day for our parents, or the moment John Kennedy was shot or Armstrong set foot on the moon for the baby boomers, 9/11 has become one of the iconic moments in time for all who were alive then.

I remember exactly where I was, what I was doing, who told me and how I felt the day Kennedy was killed; and like most people I was watching on our little black and white TV when Ruby shot Oswald the next day. I remember my teacher bringing me into the assembly hall to watch when Armstrong took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.  There have been literally trillions of moments in my life, but these iconic ones stand out, frozen in time and in my mind.  And then there was 9/11.

In these weekly blogs I try to write about things that catch my attention.  These stories tend to take on meanings beyond the specific incidents I mention, meanings that relate to life’s larger issues and that can possibly teach us something.  But this one goes way beyond any of the moments and incidents that caught my attention - 9/11 caught the attention of everyone on the planet.  There aren’t many things that reach that level, things that stop time, that leave indelible memories about where we were and who we were with, that immediately bring back visceral feelings and emotions of a long ago but clearly remembered moment in time.  9/11 does all of those things and more.

My wife and I were in NYC: preparing to get on the George Washington Bridge to go into Manhattan when the first plane hit; coming to a complete stop on the road and in our lives; watching in fear and confusion as the second plane hit; staring in horror as first one and then the other building fell; hearing about the other plane crashes in Washington and Pennsylvania; staying glued to the radio and then the television while the world stood still.

We drove away from the City that day in fear and confusion – trying to get as far away as possible and to make sense of how and why this happened.  As we drove we came upon a rise in the road where all the cars were stopped; people were standing beside their cars and looking back in the direction we came from, so we stopped too.  In the distance there was smoke where the towers so recently stood; nobody was talking; everyone was crying. We eventually made it to our home in the Adirondack Mountains, safe and overwhelmed by the fear and confusion that enveloped the world as we knew it.  I can see and feel that day now as if were yesterday.  I guess that’s what an iconic moment is: something we remember – clearly and forever.

And now, in what seems like no time at all, ten years have passed and the memorial to those killed has been unveiled. The reading of the names this past Sunday stopped and stunned us all over again.  The tolling of the bells in New York, Washington and Shanksville brought us back to that moment in time.  The sight of the grieving families and friends as they touched and etched the names of their fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters, relatives and friends brought us together now as we were back then. The pettiness and partisanship that dominates the news was pushed aside for just a moment as we all stood in solemn and shared tribute to something that transcended all the comparatively meaningless stuff that normally seeks to grab our attention.  As sad as the memories are, the togetherness helps us get through the memories now like it did when this terrible tragedy first happened.  Why can’t we make that feeling last?

A man named Al DiLascia from Chicopee, Mass. wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times this week that summed this up:

For one brief moment on September 11, 2011, time seemed to stand still.  People sought family members and recognized the importance of family. Acts of charity were plentiful.  There was an assessment of life and what is really important.  Places of worship were full.  People unashamedly prayed.  For one brief moment...

Let’s try to remember – not just the events that make up these iconic moments, but what they really mean, and what’s really important.  Don’t let a day pass that you don’t tell those you love how much you care and to show it in thoughtful and meaningful ways, to touch the people and things that are most important to you, to reach out and give to those in need, and to quietly count and give thanks for all the blessings that are in your life. Do whatever you have to do to make the meaning of your iconic moments last!

My message this week is about being loyal to the people and things that are important in your life:

Arte Nathan“Loyalty is something you give regardless of what you get back, and in giving loyalty, you're getting more loyalty; and out of loyalty flow other great qualities.” 

-Charles Jones

Colonel Charles Edward ("Chuck") Jones (1952 – 2001) was a United States Air Force officer, a computer programmer, and an astronaut in the USAF Manned Spaceflight Engineer Program. He was killed in the attacks of September 11, 2001 aboard American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to hit the first World Trade Center building at 8:46am.

All of the great values we read and write about seem to be interconnected, and loyalty may be the one at the hub of them all.  Think of the people and things you’re loyal to, and then note the other great qualities that come from that loyalty.  Friendship, success, pride, humility, professionalism, integrity, team spirit and passion are a few that immediately come to mind.  These are the qualities and values that you hope to find in others, and certainly they’re the ones to which you should always aspire.  But to get loyalty you need to give it, and that means you must be true to your work and family and friends, forgiving in your nature, humble in your approach to others, sincere in your dealings with all, and understanding in the complex and competitive world that we live in.  Look for ways to give loyalty today without attaching any strings for reciprocity. And don’t be surprised if you then start to get loyalty and all the other great qualities flowing back to you in return.

Stay well.  And please say a prayer for these heroes and all the others in your life who’ve passed.

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