The attacks on our country that took place on September 11, 2001, will forever be a part of our memories. I was a 20-year-old college student working as an intern for the United States Coast Guard on that day -- I saw a lot, heard a lot and I remember everything. At the time, I never thought I'd have to explain the events to my own children one day. But here I am, 13 years and two kids later, wondering what to say to them. In every tragedy, there is surely a lesson to be learned. These are a few things I want my kids to know about 9/11/01:
"Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." -Fred Rogers
Even if it was just for a moment, we all put our differences aside and came together as a country. Strangers held out their hands without a second thought to those who were affected. People hugged in the streets because it was all they could do amidst the wreckage. Hundreds upon thousands of people who couldn't help physically rushed to donate blood the next day (including me). So remember, no matter what life brings and how awful things may seem, there will always be some good people in this world willing to help you. Make sure you thank them.
"A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes." -Mark Twain
The United States Coast Guard was responsible for evacuating 500,000 people from Lower Manhattan in just nine hours immediately following the first plane crash. This heroic feat is significant in our lives because my Dad proudly served 30 years in the Coast Guard, retired in 2009 and continues to work for them as a civilian. He was active duty during the attacks and I worked as a civilian in his office. I'll never, for as long as I live, forget the anguish and fear on his face as he stood next to me and we watched that tragic day unfold. The Coast Guard rarely gets recognized as part of the Armed Forces, but that day, it didn't matter. They were responsible for forming a fleet of over one hundred vessels to form a boat lift which aided in this successful evacuation. Semper Paratus!
Always strive to be someone's hero.
When most people were running out of the burning buildings in Manhattan and Washington, there were others who were running into them to rescue the victims. Those people are true heroes, by definition: people of distinguished courage or ability, admired for their brave deeds and noble qualities. I'm not saying you have to run into a burning building, but live bravely and act courageously, no matter how big or small your deed. Most importantly, do it with integrity, even if no one is watching.
Don't be afraid to take a chance.
The fourth plane hijacked that day did not make it to its destination. Instead, it crashed into a field in a remote area of Pennsylvania thanks to several passengers and crew members who bravely fought back against the hijackers. United Airlines Flight 93 was delayed on takeoff that morning and the hijackers' agenda was thrown off track. Heading west to San Francisco, the flight was 40 minutes underway before the takeover began. Passengers and crew discussed fighting back. Some made phone calls home and just before their siege, passenger Todd Beamer was heard saying, "Are you guys ready? Let's roll." And he meant it. They attacked with boiling water and a valiant fight, but the hijackers took the plane down before they could regain control.
"Human nature is not of itself vicious." Thomas Paine
9/11 changed the way Americans looked at America. Before, we felt bulletproof. We were the country that couldn't be touched. As children, we grew up running around our neighborhoods, taking candy from strangers, saying hi to everyone we passed and we lived freely. Since 9/11, not so much. Everyone always seems on guard and ready to strike at the next person who glares at them. That's no way to live. We can be vigilant and still be kind. We can respect our country without defaming others. We can also walk through a door with the expectation that we'll turn around to leave at some point without worrying about what might happen while we're in there. Fear breeds fear. Don't be afraid.
Live as though you're invincible, but just know: You're not.
It's OK to break down. It's OK to cry. It's OK to remember sad or scary things. It's OK to worry. You don't have to hold it together every second of every day. You don't have to pretend you're OK if you're not. But I beg you to tell someone about it. Be sure not to live with your heart in a steel box -- but don't hang it on your sleeve, either. Find a place in the middle that makes you comfortable and be sure you tell people how you feel. So many people were lost that day without saying what needed to be said; so many will never have closure. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
There are three things that last forever: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of them all is love.
Above all else, know that YOU are loved.