September 11, 2001 is a day I’ll never forget. Anyone living in New York City on that day would probably say the same thing.
I remember how beautiful and seemingly “normal” that Tuesday began. It was a gorgeous fall day, sunny and warm with a slight crispness in the air. I was watching The Today Show while I got ready for work. At around 8:45 a.m. Matt Lauer and Katie Couric reported that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. The information coming in was still very preliminary and it at first seemed like a small commuter plane was the plane in question. I figured the plane probably had an unfortunate mechanical problem. Little did I know this event would unfold into such an international tragedy and affect so many lives.
It was time for me to leave for work so I turned off the TV and started my commute on the subway. Most people on the train weren’t aware of the plane crash. A subway conductor came onto the loudspeaker and told the passengers about the accident. A look of concern and confusion came onto people’s faces. We still didn’t have too much official information so off we went to our destinations.
By the time I walked into my office in Midtown Manhattan, the world had changed. On our lobby televisions, I could see the wild news: a second plane had crashed into the other tower of the World Trade Center. What? I stared at the screen in disbelief.
I eventually walked to my desk and had an instant message from a friend waiting to greet me. “Are you okay? Another plane has just crashed into the Pentagon.” I felt like the world was ending …
The next few days passed in a haze of disbelief, grief, anger, confusion, compassion and service.
I saw some really sad, heartwrenching, terrible things, but I also witnessed beauty and an outpouring of love. I’ve never written about this event before, and after eight years it’s time to share what I’ll never forget …
I’ll never forget:
- The guy on the street holding a handmade sign: “Free hugs”
- The shoe store giving away sneakers to women who wore high heels that day and had to walk miles home
- The men and women in ripped, soot-covered business suits with looks of relief and disbelief after walking blocks and blocks from the tragic scene
- The “missing” signs plastered everywhere describing loved ones: where they worked, their tattoos, the outfit they were wearing, their wedding bands
- An outpouring of supplies and support. I volunteered at the Javits Center on the west side of Manhattan and was overwhelmed by the carloads of people who drove from all over the country just to drop off bottled water, food, clothes, first aid kits, stuffed animals, you name it
- New Yorkers deciding to move out of the city and others vowing to never leave
- The feeling of “what does it all mean?” I had after I returned to my work as a public relations account executive
- The slowly getting back to living … and a new definition of what “living” and “success” meant
Now, eight years later, I still feel “off” on this day. It’s not surprising – the anniversary of my sister’s death from cancer is always an odd day for me, too. I think it’s the feeling of loss that accompanies lost souls, people who you wish were still here. I give myself permission to feel what I feel … and then remind myself that I’M STILL HERE. I still have work to do. It’s my responsibility, my honor to carry on and do GREAT THINGS here on earth.
President Obama has designated September 11 a National Day of Service and Remembrance. Let’s guard the memories of those who died by tapping into the spirit of service and love. How can you serve? How can you show love? How can you practice compassion … to loved ones as well as strangers?
Think about it. Act. See how serving and loving makes you feel.
FOCUS FOR THE WEEK
- Tell your family you love them … better yet: show them. Actions speak louder than words.
- Research an organization that you’ve been interested in getting involved with. What volunteer opportunies exist? Perhaps a monetary donation makes more sense to you? Give, give, give … and give some more.
- Offer to mentor someone.
- Give someone a hug.
- Invite your neighbors over for dinner.
- Pay someone a genuine compliment.
- Let an incoming car into traffic.
- Be kind to people … even if you feel they aren’t being kind to you. Compassion is contagious. Pass it on.
- Remember how lucky you are to be here. Vow to appreciate every day (even the hard ones).
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite poems called Desiderata. This was written by Max Ehrmann in the 1920s. Close to 90 years later, it still has so much relevance.
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.