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We Say ‘Never Forget’ — But Do We Really Mean It?

On September 11, we must honor the dead, but also reach out to the living.

by
Michele Catalano

Bio

September 11, 2009 - 12:00 am
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John Dunn, a New York firefighter, expects that when he visits the 9/11 memorial this week on Long Island there will be even fewer people there than the year before. It’s been that way for the past few years — and not just at the memorial, he notes:

On September 11th in general, there’s just fewer and fewer people visiting or calling me, or coming to the ceremonies with me.

John lost several colleagues and friends on September 11, 2001. He and the families of his colleagues were overwhelmed by the comfort and support they received in the aftermath of the tragedy, not just from friends and family but from virtual strangers all over the world who sent handwritten notes of sympathy, including hundreds of schoolchildren who sent drawings.

The world was in mourning with them. The first few anniversaries, the cards and phone calls would pour in. The crowds of people at the memorials and the constant barrage of specials on TV were comforting; all those people were still there for him. But as the years went on, the crowds dwindled. The phone calls were fewer. The ceremonies, memorials, and news specials were few and far between.

And John wonders: Were the survivors of 9/11 — the first responders, the volunteers, the families of the victims — left behind? Did the nation and the world move on without them?

In a way, we have. While the phrase “never forget” has become part of our vernacular, and certainly no one has forgotten the events of 9/11, we may just have forgotten those it affected most. I wrote last year about the big sign in the local mall that says “Never Forget.” I know what they meant by that. They want us to remember the terror. They want us to stay ever-vigilant, because that could happen again. They want us to remember who our enemies are. They want us to remember the fire, the smoke, the downed plane, the falling bodies.

As if we could forget.

Maybe we should take that admonition of “never forget” a different way. Maybe, on this September 11, after we pay homage to those who died we can remember those who lived. There are so many people who were, and still remain, deeply affected by the events of September 11, 2001.

People who lost friends and family.

People who were witness to the horror. First responders who made it out alive while their colleagues were buried under rubble. Volunteers who spent days on end tending to victims or searching for survivors, then bodies.

We’ll attend our ceremonies and we’ll sit in front of our television, re-watching the towers fall and staring at the plane sticking out of the Pentagon. We’ll honor the dead with a prayer or a moment of silence or a flower placed at a memorial. And then we’ll go back to our lives. We’ll go to work or run some errands or maybe go out with a friend and we’ll talk about how we’ll “never forget.”

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