To honor those who died or were directly impacted by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, I’ve started reading The Only Plane in the Sky, an oral history of the day compiled by Garrett Graff.
The events of that day changed our country (and the world, but I’m less familiar with that) forever, but what I like to focus on when reflecting on 9/11 isn’t the global political ramifications or how that day changed the Bush administration or raised up Rudy Giuliani’s name awareness, but the actions of regular people.
First responders noted that civilians were directing traffic in lower Manhattan to help clear the roads for them to get to the Towers.
Another was the story of the evacuation of John Abruzzo. John is a quadriplegic who uses an electric wheelchair. A number of men—I think I read eight or so—took shifts in four-man teams to help carry John down in his evacuation chair from the 69th floor. It took 90 minutes. Those men could have ran away, leaving John to fend for himself or only with one or two people to help (the chair was designed to only need one person to assist). They didn’t. They stayed and worked to ensure he could reach safety despite putting themselves at risk longer.
The passengers on Flight 93 are well-known. When they realized that they were the fourth plane hijacked, the other three had hit the WTC and Pentagon, and they were heading back toward Washington DC, they fought back forcing the terrorists to crash into an empty field, aborting their attack on the Capitol.
There are countless other stories like this. Regular folks in various ways stepped up to help. Not because they were trained to do it nor paid to do it. But because we’re people and people help each other. We take care of each other.
2020 and 2021 have been hard years, not in a small part because it feels like we’ve lost some (a lot?) of that willingness to subject ourselves to each other, to be in service.
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