Maybe The Question Should Not Be “Do you Remember September 11th?”, But Rather “How Do you Remember September 11th?”
I’ve heard a lot of people ask lately “Do You Remember?”. There are even songs about it. This year especially it seems to me that more and more people are going out of their way to ask if I’m “remembering”, and to show that they are. I get it. You’re proud of your country. You want to show support for the United States on the anniversary of one of the greatest wounds it’s ever sustained. You want to honor the memories of the fallen. Maybe you knew them personally. Maybe you only know of them. Either way, I get it. That’s a good thing.
But I get this creeping feeling.
Maybe it’s in response to the fact that we now know, and even work with young adults who have little to no personal memory of that day. For many people in this country, and the number will grow as the years go by, September 11th, 2001 is not much more than any other event in a history book. A story.
For those of us for whom 9/11 has a more direct and personal meaning, that bothers us. We ask, “Do You Remember?” And the answer is, of course, no, they don’t.
So we work to ensure that they understand the meaning of the event. We erect memorials. We schedule ceremonies. We display emblems. And it’s good that we do this work so that younger generations understand the meaning of the event, and honor the fallen.
I feel that slowly, over the years, that “Do You Remember?” is sometimes not a question. I feel that it is becoming a challenge. The implication is that others (maybe even me) are not displaying enough. That there aren’t enough flags. That the ceremonies aren’t big enough. That there aren’t enough memorials.
That isn’t the way that I feel that memories are honored.
I saw plenty of really terrible things that day. Things that make me feel anxious and sad and sick to my stomach to even think about. And I didn’t see even half of what others did. I saw amazing acts of bravery. And brotherhood. And heroism. I saw things done well that made a tremendous difference to the many responders and few survivors. I also saw a lot of failings. I saw systems and plans and equipment and training (or lack thereof) fail when they should have shined. I saw many, many things in our work that needed to be changed.
So we’ve had almost 15 years. Has there been progress?
Yes. In some places. In some ways.
How best to honor the memory of our fallen brothers and sisters?
How best to show evil that it did not accomplish what it sought? How best to show that we are even stronger now than we were then?
Yes, we should gather at ceremonies, in front of memorials to honor and remember the dead and to pass on the meaning of the event to younger generations. But that’s what we do in public.
Can’t we, among ourselves as emergency responders, take a look at what needed to be done then, and what needs to be done now, and do something about it? Wouldn’t that be the best way to honor the day and those lost?
It takes work.
Quiet, unappreciated work. Work on days when there are no gatherings and speeches given. Work on days when everyone is tired and people are having a tough day. Work when there are plenty of other things we could or would rather be doing.
We could work on making sure that every first responder knows at least the fundamentals of MCI operations. We could work on true communications interoperability, not just radios that can talk to each other. We can work on the fundamentals of emergency services operations that will serve to guide our actions no matter what size the incident. There are so very many things that need to be done.
Please, do what you feel you need to today. Speak in public. Share with friends. Grieve. Honor. Remember. But especially when it comes to passing on to the younger generation the meaning of the day, please, please help them, help all of us make a difference from the way we did things then to the way we do things now. Think of today, and that day fourteen years ago while you work every day to move us forward.