Learning from 9/11's tragedy


Another year passes and yet the memories remain as fresh as ever – a world that changed in the blink of an eye, altered in a hellish fireball that scarred a pristine morning sky.

We thank the members of Warwick’s local government and state officials who continue to pay homage to those who were taken too early 18 years ago, as the ceremony that takes place each year along the coast of Oakland Beach is a tasteful and well done event – not too flashy, not too long, just a somber remembrance that is worthy of those it seeks to honor.

Rep. Camille Vella-Wilkinson brought up an interesting point during the ceremony – one that is hard to fathom. She mentioned how all students in primary school today learn about September 11th, 2001 as a historical event. Indeed, for those members of our country 18 years and younger, the day is something they cannot reflect on from personal experience but only from the accounts of others, and from video footage of the day.

They will have no shortage of teachers to put the day into proper perspective. School Committee vice chair Judy Cobden, though she readily admits that she isn’t eager to re-live the most tragic day of her life, understands the importance of continuing to share her story of fleeing downtown Manhattan on the day of the attacks.

She keeps within her psyche not only the horrifying trauma associated with witnessing such an apocalyptic event, but also the stark memory of how such a tragedy truly united the country in the days and weeks following. Flags sold out in stores, historic amounts of blood was donated – people were kinder, more understanding and empathetic of one another.

But that effect hasn’t persisted, as Cobden noted during her speech – which she delivers wearing the same sneakers that allowed her to flee the destruction that day. Like the rubber soles of those aging sneakers, the widespread American kindness that was evident following the attack has hardened. People are less trusting of their neighbors, less trusting of “outsiders,” and less empathetic for people they don’t know.

“This needs to change,” Cobden said. “We need to go back and remember the solidarity we had for thy neighbor, for thy state and our country after this tragic event. Be kind, helpful and understanding to each other. We don't always have to agree, but we should always try to be respectful. We are all human, and more alike than different.”

Cobden’s message couldn’t be more on the mark. The only positive thing that can emerge from a tragedy like 9/11 is to have it serve as a reminder that the only thing that can conquer evil is love. Whether the people who perished on that day were black, white, Hispanic, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Republican or Democrat, they were all people – people with hopes and dreams and plans for the upcoming weekend that they never got to pursue. They could have been any one of us or our loved ones.

The importance of remembering 9/11 comes not only from honoring the innocent Americans who lost their lives in an act of terrorism and the ones who have passed since from medical complications resulting from breathing in toxic fumes (and others who fight medical maladies as a result still to this day). To remember 9/11 is to remember how fleeting life is, and how quickly it can be taken away.

The only suitable means to honor the memory of those who died is to be a better person to those around you – to plant one more seed of kindness and inspire others to do the same, so that a forest of benevolence will suffocate any lingering pockets of evil in the world.

To read the transcripts of phone calls made from people within the hijacked planes or the two towers following being struck, calls made by people knowing that they were almost certainly about to perish, is an emotionally draining but wholly important task. It drives home the point that what truly matters in life is not what group of people makes you angry or what governmental policy you believe is ruining the world.

The only thing that matters when you’re staring down the end is the ones you loved, and the ones who love you. Keep them close, keep them safe, and keep them in mind with each decision you make.


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