We Will Never Forget You
For those older than twenty years, you'll likely recognize that phrase from immediately after the attacks of 9-11. Some twenty-one years later and that phrase still hits me.
My family and I had the opportunity to visit NYC for Thanksgiving last week. Most of the trip was amazing, fun and fast-paced. But one morning we slowed down and contemplated life, hatred, and self-sacrifice at the 9-11 Memorial.
I remember the day of 9-11-2001 like it was yesterday.
The bright blue sky. Everyone talks about how blue the sky was in Manhattan that day, unlike when we saw the new World Trade Center shrouded in clouds last week.
Perfect fall weather, even in Nashville, TN, where I was a third-year medical student.
That morning in 2001, I was seeing patients on the medical wards of the Veterans' Administration Hospital in Nashville, TN when patient after patient began complaining of heart pain. Our team rushed into one room of a Korean War vet and a colleague noticed the news report on the man's television.
It was live video footage of the first World Trade Center on fire, the remnants of an airplane clearly visible through the wreckage.
We were mesmerized by the footage, our patient forgotten in our own momentary shock. The man's roommate shouted at the television screen, "We're under attack!"
You don't yell that at a VA Hospital.
It would be almost an hour before our team shut down all the tv's in patients' rooms and calmed our patients. Two had heart attacks that morning, one ending up in the ICU, the other in cardiothoracic surgery.
By the time we all paused again, both towers had been hit.
Our team stood in an empty ICU room, jaws dropped - and in my case, tears streaming down my face - watching two passenger airplanes fly directly into first one, then the other, World Trade Center tower.
I couldn't take my eyes off the footage on repeat.
The fires raging hot, steel twisting and groaning, while emergency responders raced into the burning buildings.
My thoughts immediately went to friends in NYC, like many people that day.
Prior to medical school, I had worked in finance for six years, based out of Chicago. But I'd traveled to NYC and worked with bankers based there. Had they survived? How would I ever know?
Twenty-one years later, standing in the memorial room of those who perished in the attack last week, I searched for a familiar face or name. Thankfully, I saw none. Yet, the stories of the fallen drew me in.
I realized the 911 memorial is not only a tribute to those who sacrificed their lives and to those who died, but the memorial also has important lessons for us today.
Hatred has no place among us.
We are better together than we are divided.
To sacrifice is to show love for another.
This is why I stood at the blue wall in the 911 memorial and again shed silent tears.
Tears for the lives lost.
Tears for the hatred that filled mens' hearts enough to sacrifice their lives.
Tears for the wound our nation still bears.
Tears for the ongoing bloodshed, racial prejudice, and hatred in our nation.
Tears for what will happen if we don't course-correct soon.
Let us never forget the lessons of 911 and how we rallied together as a nation afterward.
Let us never forget what happens when we allow hatred to fill our hearts and what happens when brotherly love motivates us to action.
Let us never forget the sacrifices of men and women so that others may live.
May we live in such a way as to honor the memory of the fallen.