Thoughts 10 Years Down the Road

30 days hath September. Yet out of all those 30 days, we remember the 11th the most. 9/11, September 11, the day the towers fell. To some, September 11 symbolizes a day of terror and hatred, a loss of innocence of the nation. However, to me, 9/11 symbolizes the kindness of strangers. 

I was raised in a very diverse family, to say the least. My mother likes to say that her parents collected broken birds; I guess adopting four of their seven children earned them that title in her eyes. My mother, in particular, was their physically broken bird. Before being adopted at the age of six, my mother lived in an orphanage in Korea tailored for children with disabilities. Her's was polio. Although she was treated for it when she moved to the United States, she was left with a slightly shorter right leg -- the disease withered the muscles in her leg, ruining her chances of ever becoming a track star. Not only unable to run or even walk briskly, my mother has always been very small; standing at four foot 11 inches, she is easily knocked over and ignored by people in a hurry. 

My mother likes to say that her children had saved her life multiple times by being late to school. September 11 was such a time. After missing the bus, she had to drive us to school and sign us in, causing her to miss her preferred train to Hoboken. She worked at the World Financial Center, but needed to go to the World Trade Center for a meeting that morning, which she was now running late for. The ferry had just let the passengers off on the shores of Manhattan, with everyone rushing to their respective offices, when the first plane struck. My mother, unable to run, unable to make herself visible to the people around her, was practically trampled by the crowds trying to get away from the chaos. Out of nowhere, a man hoisted my mother over his shoulder and carried her back onto the ferry boat, saving her life. We rarely remember the people whose lives we affect, but that day, that man affected an entire family by a simple act of kindness, one that he probably did not even stop to think about. 

10 years later, sitting around a table in Tucson, Arizona, my aunts and uncles reminisced. They told of a woman with muscular dystrophy being carried down 58 flights of stairs in the World Trade Center by her coworkers, some of whom she barely knew. They told of a man who drove people stranded at a Vegas airport back to their homes -- costing his rental car company over $8,000 in gas. They told of a medical examiner attempting to identify the bodies of burned children. These people did these things not because a higher authority told them too, not because they wanted to gain karmic brownie points, but merely because in a time of need, they knew that it was the only option. United we stand, divided we fall. 

It is these very acts of kindness that we should be remembering this horrific day for, not the number of deaths or the rage that burned in every American's heart thinking of the perpetrators behind this act. People sometimes will tell me, if you don't support our soldiers, if you don't support our government, the terrorists win. In a sense, they are right, though often for the wrong reasons. We do not lose if we do not send young men and women to their deaths in a foreign nation, we lose if we forget that united we stand, divided we fall. We lose if we forget that it is more about rebuilding than destruction. We lose if we forget that our true strength lies in our humanity, that peace is harder than chaos, but so much more satisfying at the end of the day. 

So to all of the teenagers posting Facebook statuses claiming that if they were older they would "kick terrorist ass" or political icons mocking their opponents, I say this: we were strongest at our lowest point. We were strongest when we were more concerned with the safety of our neighbors than hunting the terrorists. We are so caught up in the violence and hate that our leaders champion, we are so concerned with being the greatest nation on earth that we forget that the simple acts of kindness are what held our nation together after it was ripped apart by tragedy. That is our legacy, our kindness, our hope and our unity.