September 11. 9/11, to some. The day that planes crashed, buildings fell, and loved ones died. For the past nine years, I have joined much of the nation in struggling to deal with the anniversary of the worst day in American history. I remember a client and his seven-month-pregnant wife, who died when at 8:46 AM their American Airlines Flight 11 tore a hole in the World Trade Center’s North Tower and an even larger hole in this nation’s soul. Of course, no matter your location or the task you were completing, we reeled in pain as United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower at 17 confusion-laden minutes later. When the Pentagon and, thanks to the heroism of the “ordinary citizens” on board, a field in Pennsylvania received the third and fourth terroristic blows, we cried and yelled and made promises and pledges and did what Americans do: we moved forward.
So today, I struggled to decide whether this was an appropriate forum to discuss the horrors that bent the will of Manhattan, our nation’s capitol and citizens who found people falling from buildings on their televisions, cellular service interrupted, and a level of camaraderie not experienced in a generation. And then, I realized that medicine and law live at the intersection of humanity. And, in the aftermath of the murders that took place almost a decade ago, we must focus on what brings us together, what pushes us forward, what leads us to respect difference (and not just tolerate it), and how we pledge through our actions to prevent terrorism here and abroad.
I cannot answer the question of why 19 young men decided that turning airplanes into weapons made more sense than living. And, I cannot explain why a Florida pastor (let’s stop saying his name and end his “15 minutes” of embarrassing fame) thought that burning copies of the Quran would pay homage to the nearly 3,000 people, including nationals from over 70 countries, who perished on that fateful day. I struggle to make sense of hate no matter what religion or flag it is committed under.
I choose to remember those who died and honor those who valiantly tried to save life that day by honoring the heroes of today. When is the last time that you thanked a police officer or firefighter for their service? When you see a veteran of a foreign war or an active-duty member of the military, do you offer words of support or just let them know you care by saying something like, “Stay safe”? Heroes walk amongst us. I think we celebrate the lives lost on September 11, 2001 by honoring the first responders who keep our streets safe, who ensure that fires will be extinguished, and who keep us alive until we arrive at a hospital.
Yesterday, Connecticut buried Kenneth Hall, a 22-year veteran of our State Police, who was killed when a reckless driver turned his cruiser into metal fragments. (http://bit.ly/b1Bj6P .) He had previously served our country in the Marines. He was a dad. And now, as Connecticut’s Governor M. Jodi Rell eulogized, “in one sudden, inexplicable moment, we lost him.”
I will never have the opportunity to thank Trooper Hall for his service to the State of Connecticut and the United States. It’s too late for that. But, if I remember that when the Twin Towers were falling, there were police officers, firefighters, EMTs and paramedics who rushed in, I honor him too. When we ran out, they rushed in. Through the smoke and fire, they ran in to get people out… they ran into the fire.
So, while it is true that nine years later, I cannot make sense of the tragedy that is now part of the tapestry of this great nation. I can ask that we recognize the people who each morning and each night, work diligently to keep us safe, to rescue us and care for us.
We did not invite a confrontation with evil nine years ago. Yet, when we reflect on the hours, days and years that have passed since the attacks, we must acknowledge that the true measure of a nation’s strength is how it rises to master the moment when it was tested. We flew flags… lots of them. We pledged allegiance to democracy. We made promises to do better.
It was said that angles crowded the streets of heaven as we mourned those lost on September 11. Trooper Hall further crowds those streets. The only questions remaining are: Will you let hate or humanity direct your actions? Will you simply tolerate or learn to respect others? Will you worry more about arguing over a speeding ticket or the risk that an officer takes while standing by your car as other vehicles race by on the highway? In memory of those who died nine years ago and those who placed their lives in harm’s way to save victims of the destruction, let’s ensure that our actions show we remember.
”In this unique confluence of Rosh Hashana, the anniversary of 9/11 and the ending of Ramadan, my wishes go out to all my friends and colleagues for a coming year filled with peace, with wonder, with civility and openness.”