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Beacon Senior News

Twenty years later: How Americans processed the September 11 attacks

Aug 23, 2021 12:28PM ● By Lauren Berg
New York City 9/11 Memorial lights

As a New Yorker, the attacks of September 11, 2001, literally hit home. 

In the days following, the stories of friends, acquaintances and third-party accounts circulated in our communities. A classmate whose uncle, a New York City firefighter, happened to be sick the day of the attack and stayed home. The punctual businessman who uncharacteristically missed his train, or the World Trade Center worker who forgot something and left the building. There were people who were bumped off or missed those fatal flights in moments of serendipitous luck. 

It’s tempting to suggest that divine intervention saved those individuals, but there were too many stories of those who didn’t make it to believe those victims were somehow less blessed.

The tragedy left scars not just in New York, but also around the country, with a plane crashing into the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. And while it was easy to feel sadness at the nearly 3,000 lives lost, anger and hatred toward the 19 terrorists involved, or fear for yourself and your family about future attacks, that day also exemplified the courage of our country’s citizens.

When we remember the September 11 attacks, we remember the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 and their heroic resistance to the hijackers, which possibly prevented an attack on the White House. We remember the law enforcement, firefighters and other public servants who saved lives, even at risk to their own. We remember the support of our neighbors and friends and the shared conviction that America is a place worth protecting.

It wasn’t just Americans who were united by the tragedy. A few months later, I attended a show in Canada, where the performers addressed the 9/11 attacks at the end of the program and brought out an American flag. Dressed in red, white and blue, they sang “God Bless America.”

Some people look at events like 9/11 and see everything that is wrong with the world: war, terror, pain and suffering. But I see the way everyday citizens reacted to one of the most trying, difficult days of their life. The number of people who stepped up as heroes gives me hope. For those who made the ultimate sacrifice, their names are forever etched into the black stone surrounding the 9/11 Memorial’s infinity pools, built where the towers once stood. 

At the 9/11 Memorial Park in New York, you’ll also find the “Survivor Tree”—a pear tree that was severely damaged and burned at Ground Zero and nursed back to health. Each year, the 9/11 Memorial gives seedlings from the Survivor Tree to three communities that have endured tragedy in recent years.

In sharing this country we call home, let’s not forget that we have the ability to become heroes in the face of great hardship. Call me optimistic, but I’d hope that if we had been there, both you and I would have stepped up and helped those that needed us. 

Twenty years later, when I remember 9/11, I remember that even on the worst day of our lives, we can become something greater.

The spirit of the fallen soldier