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.”
Or maybe we just won’t even think about it again until next year. Let’s think about the people left behind — the people who really can’t move on because the reminders are always there, whether in images in media or in news of a seemingly endless war.
In this age of social media, where we make friends around the world through Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, almost all of us know someone who was in some way affected by 9/11. Let’s reach out to the living while we honor the dead.
Send an email, make a phone call, tell them you’re thinking about them. Maybe you know someone who volunteered at Ground Zero in the days and weeks after. Maybe you know someone who lived in the area and watched their neighborhood become smothered in dark smoke. Maybe you know someone who handed out food and water to survivors and rescuers.
Or maybe you know someone who sat helplessly in front of a television learning that someone they loved was murdered. They all need to be remembered. The people who still cry themselves to sleep at night and the people who can’t sleep at all because of what they saw. The people with post traumatic stress and asthma. The people with back injuries and lost businesses.
“Never forget.” We hear that so often. It conjures images like this and this and this, but I bet it rarely conjures up an image like this. We’ll never forget the terror. We’ll never forget the fear. Something of that magnitude never leaves you. Those things aren’t with us all the time, but one image or one mention of 9/11 can bring it all up again.
“Never forget.” We’ll never forget the victims. There will be memorials and ceremonies in their honor. There will be flowers laid at graves and moments of silence worldwide for them.
“Never forget.” The heroes, the survivors, the people who eight years later still struggle every day with the aftermath of a terrorist act.
The John Dunns, that’s who we are most likely to forget. This September 11, let’s make an effort to remember them.