Even 17 years later, the memories of September 11, 2001 remain fresh in the minds of all who were old enough to recognize that something momentously horrific was occurring on television screens across the nation before our very eyes.
They were exceptionally innocent times prior to the attack. The country was not without its problems, but our collective consciousness was much more focused on domestic threats than any boogeymen overseas – a consciousness formed from the wake of tragedies such as the Columbine shooting, Oklahoma City Bombing and the tense racial relations exacerbated by the LAPD’s filmed beating of Rodney King.
However, the terrorist attacks committed by Al Qaeda have cemented the threat of foreign agents into our minds.
In the 17 years that have passed since the fateful day, airport security has tightened to a stranglehold and we are experiencing a fresh wave of thinly guised distrust or outright xenophobia aimed at immigrants and outsiders. Some may view this distrust as justified – mindful of the dangers elsewhere in the world. Others may view it as succumbing to fear and sacrificing our essential values as a country composed of migrants from all over the world.
Whatever you believe, those who remember 9/11 should be encouraged to recall the qualities that brought Americans together following the senseless act of killing, rather than the seeds of division that were sewn and have strongly taken root in recent years.
In the days following the attacks, more than 36,000 units of blood were donated to the New York Blood Center alone, while the Washington Post reported at the time that the national blood supply ballooned from an average three-day supply to a 10-day supply – which when thought about, truly shows how willing people are to help out their fellow humans in the wake of a tragedy.
The Red Cross actually caught serious flak back then for destroying blood samples they collected due to the sheer volume of samples collected that couldn’t be feasibly saved. The overwhelming outpouring of blood donations, some of which were actually completely pointless, provides a great example of people wanting to help but not knowing exactly what they can do. This conundrum, unfortunately, is what prevents many otherwise well-intentioned people from trying to provide help when it might be needed.
In Warwick and in cities and towns across Rhode Island – including Cranston and Providence – volunteers have stepped up to provide cookies and other baked goods to first responders on Sept. 11 every year since 2002. The tradition started out of that very dilemma – wanting to help but not knowing what you, as an individual, can do to help a problem that has no defined scope or solution.
Both the blood and cookie donations, however, provide insight into exactly what we should do in the wake of terrible events. Not everyone can run into burning buildings or deescalate a hostage situation, but everyone can take time out of their day every once in a while to spread happiness and positivity to other people.
We somehow take for granted – in a world where we now turn to the internet to provide us with a sense of appreciation from our families, coworkers and friends through the form of Facebook likes and re-tweets on Twitter – that our fellow human beings want essentially the same thing as we all do; to belong, to be thought of and to be seen as somebody worthy of love and admiration.
We also take for granted the ability of one person to make a difference. Making a difference doesn’t mean changing the world through your actions, it could be something as simple as changing one person’s life for the better, even if it’s just temporarily.
Volunteer opportunities exist all throughout the state and the nation, and since 2002, Sept. 11 has become associated with National Service Day. It provides opportunities for people looking to lend a hand to do just that, and you can find a good list of potential places to start near you by visiting www.nationalservice.gov/serve.
A nonprofit group dedicated to spreading goodwill on Sept. 11 each year, 9/11Day.org will be packing over 1.7 million bags of food for people in need. The movement was created by two friends, one of who lost his brother in the attacks. They have taken a tragedy and not only endured it, but made a positive impact on the world, which can have effects lasting much longer than the damage caused by terrorism.
We are the United States of America, and with that comes to responsibility of every American to not just mourn tomorrow as a day of profound sadness, but also relish it as an opportunity to help ensure that terrorism does not defeat our collective will to remain free.