Eleven years ago today, I was in California. I was still sleeping when the mother of my two children barreled up the stairs, charged into our bedroom and yelled with wide eyes “WE’RE UNDER ATTACK!!”
Disoriented, I flew out of bed and raced downstairs as I wondered who the hell breaks into an obviously-occupied house in broad daylight. When I first saw the TV, I don’t think I immediately processed what I was seeing. It looked like a movie. It had to be a movie. Planes don’t fly into buildings in real life…do they?
You know the rest.
I never had much interest in global affairs and politics until that plane disintegrated into the World Trade Center, taking the building with it. 9/11 was the day I learned we weren’t invincible. Arrogant, I know, but it’s the truth. I never had the idea that we could even be attacked, much less come under attack. Suddenly, the bitching about miniscule little problems seems hopelessly irrelevant, hearing about people leaping to their deaths…because that’s better than being burned to death or crushed.
9/11 taught me that we were vulnerable, that there were people so zealously devoted to their beliefs that they were willing to kill anyone—including themselves—to make their point. Everything I was ever afraid of in a comic book had suddenly sprung too horrid, seething life. And while there was no Batman, no Superman, no Spider-Man to save the day…there were heroes.
I also learned from 9/11 what heroism really meant. I didn’t know much about firefighters until that day. I still try to envision the mentality the men and women of the FDNY as they raced towards the Reaper’s inferno, knowing full well that they probably wouldn’t be coming back. To them, saving as many people as they could was more important than going home that day. How many of us can say they’d do that, if presented with the same circumstances?
I consider the passengers and crew of Flight 93, who decided in one fateful moment that it was more important to stop the maniacs who’d hijacked the plane than it was to survive the day. They must’ve realized they were dead anyway, if the terrorists succeeded. With nothing left to lose, they made a stand—victoriously, I’d say. The plane never reached its destination.
And finally, I learned what tremendous good we are capable of doing when we set aside our differences and COME TOGETHER. There would be (unwarranted) reprisals against American Muslims later (and still to this day), but for one, brief, glorious moment, our differences were set aside in the name of saving one another.
I believe that we are at our best in moments like these. Not focusing on what divides us, but what unites us; the fact that each of us are all human beings who bleed the same color and face the same end.
The things that make us different are not supposed to divide us, they’re supposed to bring us together. As we learn from one another we become stronger as a whole. When we are strong together, nothing stand against us.
We were hurt. We came together. We rebuilt. We moved on.
That’s what I learned from 9/11.
Thanks for reading.