How we can honor the memory of those who lost their lives on 9/11 with our actions

September 11 terrorist attack
As seen from the New Jersey Turnpike, smoke billows from the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City after airplanes crashed into both towers, September 11, 2001. [Photo Credit: AP | JTA | Gene Boyars]

Today, as our nation pauses to look back and mourn the lives lost during the tragic terrorist attacks on our country on September 11, 2001, it’s important to also look at the strength and resolve of our nation and to remember that each day is an opportunity to do better for ourselves and in memory of those not with us anymore.

Every year since 2001, nearly every person I know has stopped to share their story of where they were during the horrific  attack. They speak of how it changed them and their relationships. I was in college at Florida State University,  my mother worked at Orlando International Airport I remember being scared for her not knowing what was happening as it happened. I remember the shock and the grief but mostly I remember how we came together that day and in the days that followed. Everyone had a story to tell of where they were and what happened around them. As a nation, we collectively went through the stages of grief and then we healed together as members of a community that stretched across the country or maybe even across the world.

After every disaster, whether it be the 9/11 attacks, hurricanes, wildfires, or terrible evil and criminal incidents like the Las Vegas or the Parkland shootings, we as a nation, instinctively turn towards, not away from one another. We strengthen our resolve to help those around us. We comfort and support one another. We look for solutions to the problems facing victims, survivors and first responders. In crisis we become the people I wish we were every day, thoughtful, caring and giving.

It is hard for me to reconcile the nation that I love and the patriotic people who always show up and provide for those in need during times of crisis with the fact that some of those same people during regular days or heaven forbid during political season show incredible disrespect and disdain for those around them. In times of peace and normalcy it seems we forget our shared humanity and turn against one another seeing only our differences not our common goals or shared values.

Today, on 9-11, I’m challenging myself and I challenge you, to pause and rethink this animosity — the way we react to it and the way we promote it. We should actively seek to stifle and not give power to those who seek to divide us as a country. We should stand united beside one another more often than we stand toe-to-toe.

Today, as we celebrate the heroes who emerged that day, who put their lives on the line to save the lives of other we celebrate the spirit of a country that a did not allow the terrorists to win that day or any day since. It’s a day to not just remember the sense of community we felt that day but to feel it again, and then to turn around and do something to honor the memory of those not with us anymore.

It’s an opportunity for us as parents to talk to our children about the spirit of true heroism and what it really means to be a hero. We use that term so lightly and loosely these days, but 9/11 showed us what true heroes were. They were the individuals rushing to the buildings as they were falling down. They were the individuals on the plane in Pennsylvania. We were reminded that day that heroes come in every shape a size. We can remember that in each of us there’s a way to honor the heroes in the days following the attacks there were so many who gave blood, who gave money and who gave of their time and skills. There were those who enlisted in the military. Then there were the ordinary miracles that took place in coffee shops, churches and homes where people sat with a grieving neighbor or stranger to comfort them. We need to tap into that spirit of love and kindness more often and that’s how we truly honor those we remember today.

Today, let us remember the American spirit with more than words or memes, but our in actions tomorrow and the next day and every day after.