20 years ago today most of us remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news. We watched the footage of airplanes hitting the Twin Towers in New York City, at first believing it was a horrible accident and tragedy, and then the horrific realization as the following planes hit that it was an intentional act of harm set in.
I was in my early twenties, not particularly interested in politics or world events as I lived the life of a young adult tempting freedoms and poor decision making and figuring out my place in this life. I remember the shock and grief I immediately felt as I pulled over on the side of the highway and sat there, stunned and in tears, trying to make sense of how you could have enough hate in your heart to want to kill not only thousands of people, but sentence whole families to a lifetime of questions and sorrow while causing an irreparable change to the world. I sat there and silently mourned the loss of life and the naive belief that most of the time, good prevailed over evil.
And yet, we also witnessed some of the most heroic and selfless acts of love of all time. We watched how sometimes, even during our worst moments we are able to push away our differences and support one another the way we should be. We watched people put love into action when that was the only way to get through the most challenging moments of their lives. It always amazes me how humans are capable of rising above all the bullshit and coming together during times of acute crisis.
As I reflect on September 11, 2001, I think about our pattern of behaviour and wonder if we have truly made any progress or learned enough from that day. In a lot of ways, the opportunity of what is one of the biggest tragedies to ever occur in the world to become better as humans seems lost.
9/11 showed us exactly what the results of extremism of any kind results in. It showed us what intolerance and hate does and the following destruction that seems inevitable. It showed us what while we are capable of unity and compromise and love we are somehow incapable of sustaining it.
We were shown so many things, but we weren’t really watching, were we? Not all of us anyway.
Have we really learned anything in 20 years? Have we done any better?
We continue to divide ourselves out of selfishness and greed and the prioritization of our individual beliefs over the best interest of our communities. We impose extremist views from both sides of the political spectrum on one another and refuse to concede a single fucking thing. We choose personal hills to die on that harm others because we are more concerned with being right than doing what’s right.
9/11 was a tragedy of epic proportions. The loss was monumental and despairing and preventable. It didn’t happen in a vacuum, we just didn’t really notice because the pot of water was heating slowly ( thanks for that analogy Margaret Atwood). And here we are, 20 years later, with a different sort of tragedy unfolding over the last 2 years and we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes as humans over and over again.
As we watch memorials today and see the images of the heroism and love mixed in with the sorrow of that unforgettable day 20 years ago, remind yourself that we have a chance to live up to the way we temporarily came together back then. We can take care of one another and remember how to put others ahead of ourselves in a crisis. We can choose to love above all else or we can choose idealism and selfishness.
Choose well, be well. Don’t let trauma of all those that survived New York City, those that didn’t make it, and the pain of their loved ones be another empty lesson that we continue to ignore.