*disclaimer - all opinions in this post are my own, and should not be credited to, or blamed on, anyone else*
I have been part of the firefighting/first responder community for five years now, and before that, I was just like everyone else that will likely read this, your average American citizen, going about my daily life.
I remember where I was on September 11, 2001. I remember what I was doing when I first heard the news. I remember watching the television and being unable to take my eyes off the smoke coming from the World Trade Tower in New York. I remember watching the second plane hit. I remember y my knees buckling when the towers came down. I remember watching the chaos of the smoke and ash and dust. I remember hearing what I know now are PASS alarms, and even though I didn't know what they were knowing that it meant something was terribly wrong. I remember seeing the panicked faces as people ran for their lives. I remember the determination on the faces of the men and women who were running in to save lives. I remember hearing that all air traffic was ordered to the ground. I remember hearing the the Pentagon had been hit. I remember hearing that a plane had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
The point is.......I remember. For those of us that lived that day, I don't think that we'll ever truly forget. But, we've become complacent. And I think that somehow, somewhere along the way, we've forgotten to remember some of the things that are really important.
I went to my first memorial stair climb this weekend. I had the honor of watching 343 firefighters, 70 law enforcement officers and 9 emergency medical technicians be memorialized as their sacrificed was memorialized by members of their profession geared up and climbed 110 floors to recognize their sacrifice on the fateful day. It was done to remember those that that went in while others ran out. It was done with honor, with courage, with determination. It was done as a symbol of brotherhood. It was done as a sign that we will never forget what they gave that day. It was done because it should be done, because it will always be done, and because it is right.
It was like having steel wool rubbed over a raw wound. And I will go and honor that sacrifice every year, and re-open that would because they deserve that.
But we're missing something. We're missing half of the whole. We're forgetting to honor the reason they made that sacrifice, and it somehow cheapens the sacrifice they made, and I didn't understand that until today, when the keynote speaker's comments really had a chance to sink it with me.
Yesterday I heard some numbers that I'm sure I had heard before, but had never really sunk into my brain, and it made me start doing some thinking.
On any given day, fifty thousand people worked in the World Trade Center in New York. Think about that, fifty thousand people. I live in a town of 10,000. That's 5 of my entire town. 5. And they evacuated in an hour. 3,000 lives were lost. And that is tragic. It is unimaginable. But 47,000 - forty seven thousand, were saved. Everyone was a first responder that day. Whether they grabbed the person in the cube next to them, whether they wore bunker gear, a bullet proof vest and a gun, whether they wore a stethoscope, or just yanked someone off the street to get them away from the flying glass, they were a first responder. It may have been for a few hours, for a few minutes, for a few second, but for that day, for those moments, they found the courage to do what our heroes do every day. For that moment in time, they were a part of our brotherhood.
In the Pentagon, military and civilian personnel got people out. They went above and beyond to save lives.
At Ground Zero, George W. Bush said on September 14, 2001 "I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people - the people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon!"
While I hate to disagree with President Bush - the people who knocked down those buildings had already heard from the American people. They heard from the American people when Flight 93 that had been taken over by hijackers was taken back by its passengers who bravely took it back and chose to take it down in a field where no one else could be harmed. They joined the elite of our military that day. They chose the manner of their death, and turned the hijackers' weapon against them and saved an untold number of lives.
On September 11, 2001, our politicians stood hand in hand and sang the National Anthem, regardless of political affiliation, for love of country. People lined up to give blood, for love of country. People flew their flags for love of country. Young men and women enlisted for love of country. A national tragedy brought out the best in us, and somewhere along the way, we've all forgotten that it mattered. Over the past 13 years, we've devolved back to political shenanigans that have stalled our country, people have gotten so mired down in believing that their way is best that we've forgotten the basic lessons that we teach our children - that you have to learn to compromise in order to find the best way to accomplish anything.
And perhaps, most importantly, we've forgotten the most important thing about September 11, 2001. As tragic as it was, it could have been so much worse.
Eventually, people need to stop grieving. Unfortunately, in the first responder community especially, we remember to grieve, but we forget to celebrate. We need to grieve, yes. We need to remember to take the time to grieve and remember the loss every year. Not just of the first responders lost, but of the civilians that couldn't be saved, because, after all, that's what the job is about.
But then, when the moment is over, we need to lift up our heads, throw back our shoulders, lift our fists to the sky, and celebrate all the families that are still whole today because of those men and women that gave it all. 47,000 went home that day. That's 47,000 birthdays, Christmases, Thanksgivings, Father's Days, Mother's Days, weddings, and graduations that still happen because of those that gave it all. I'd call that a reason to celebrate. I'd that call a victory. I'd call that a damned good day.
I'd call that the other half of the story.