9/11 during COVID

On this day nineteen years ago, nineteen men boarded airplanes and turned them into weapons. Their act of violence triggered a million acts of kindness, bravery, and compassion.

There’s a whole generation that only knows of the 9/11 attacks as an historic event. That generation will live their entire adult lives in a post-COVID world. Until this year, 9/11 was the only time that my generation felt a collective conscience where every news-story, every grand or mundane gesture, for every individual, was through the lens of an all-consuming shared event.

In 2001 fire fighters, police officers, and paramedics became our heroes. In 2020 our heroes are nurses, delivery drivers, grocery store workers, and now teachers.

When we were attacked in 2001, workers lined up to help dig through the rubble. The rest of us lined up to donate blood in hopes that there were survivors who would need it. After the towers fell there weren’t enough opportunities for us all to contribute directly to the recovery effort, so we turned to each other and shared the best of ourselves.

During the peak of the COVID lockdown people delivered meals, sewed masks, and donated time and talents to help keep neighbors and complete strangers safe from a mysterious killer virus.

All of us today are living through a healthcare pandemic, in a time of economic crisis, and during a Black Lives Matter movement that is poised to transform justice in society.

Our view of 9/11 has the benefit of time. We keep the memory of that defining moment alive by recalling and sharing our stories. Our collective memories focus almost exclusively on acts of kindness and heroism.

If history is our guide, then when our children recall the time of COVID, they will not speak of who refused to wear a mask, what states were on the quarantine list, or even looting and violence. They will recall a profound shared experience that united them with their family, their community, and their nation.

2020 is a year of missed milestone events. People mourn and celebrate without being able to hug their loved ones or even gather in a room together.

Normally on 9/11 Ossining and Briarcliff officials and emergency responders invite the community to gather at the waterfront for a moving ceremony. This year’s service will be very modest. Only a handful of us are invited to acknowledge the day. No music. No speeches.

Once again we are living in a time when every prayer, every dream, every ordinary day for every one of us is touched by the same crises and the same movement. Let us hope that when we gather nineteen years from now, we will recall this defining moment as a turning point for society and for our nation.

I recorded these remarks as a video for the residents of Ossining.

I hope that on this Day of Remembrance you are able to connect with loved ones, friends, or even social media followers to share and hear stories of 9/11. With each story we hear, we deepen our connections to each other. Each story is unique, yet almost every one shares the same theme of the unifying spirit that shined so brilliantly in the wake of those towers falling.

It is my honor to serve this beautiful community. I look forward to reading and hearing your stories throughout today. We are all stronger because of the kindness, bravery and compassion that were the hallmark of our recovery from 9/11, and that are critical to our perseverance today.

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