September 11, 2001 was a stunning day for the world, as the terrorist attacks on the United States devastated New York City, the Pentagon, and rural Pennsylvania. More than 3,000 lives were lost, many of them brave emergency response professionals who sacrificed their lives while saving others. For those families and individuals directly affected by the attacks who lost loved ones on that day, and for millions of others around the world whose lives would be changed by ever evolving security, mistrust, and war, 9/11 marked a turning point in history.
Yet not everything was bad about that day, and the tragedies of 9/11 revealed a resiliency of spirit and strength in the American people that cannot be matched. Thousands of people stepped forward to volunteer with rescue efforts and to provide relief for affected families, and even as years have passed since the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell, that spirit remains strong and vibrant throughout the world. Because of that, 9/11 is not only a day for commemoration, but also for celebration – celebrating the freedoms, individuality, and patriotic pride that make America great.
Commemorating and Celebrating 9/11
In December, 2001, September 11 was official designated as “Patriot Day” by then-President Bush. In celebration of that patriotism, events around the country commemorate the lives lost on 9/11 and in succeeding years in defense of freedom. There are many things individuals can do to commemorate and celebrate the day while honoring everyone involved.
Thousands of pints of blood were donated to the American Red Cross in the days immediately after the 2001 terrorist attacks, so much so that eventually donations were not accepted because the blood could not be used while it was still viable. Today, however, blood banks and hospitals still need donations. Honor the spirit that led to the outpouring of donations in 2001 by donating blood in September every year.
Fly a Flag
Because September 11 is officially a national holiday designated for mourning and remembrance, it is appropriate to fly American flags on that day at half staff. Urge local businesses and offices to do the same, and consider special flag raising and lowering ceremonies to involve schools or other youth groups in the event so it is never forgotten. At flag ceremonies, it would also be appropriate to have a presentation of the colors with military flags represented.
Volunteer Community Service
In the days after 9/11, thousands of citizens volunteered time in the affected areas not only to help recovery from the immediate effects of the attacks, but also to assist affected families. Carry that spirit of service each year by arranging volunteer events in September and offering your service. Simple tasks such as cleaning a local park, delivering meals to the elderly, or tutoring at a local school all contribute to the strength of our society and the spirit 9/11 awakened.
Participate in Fundraisers
The financial costs of the terrorist attacks will last for many years for victims and their families, as well as for individuals affected by the wars resulting from 9/11. Medical expenses, therapy, and other costs can skyrocket, and fundraisers to help defray those costs are always welcome. Investigate 5K runs, rummage sales, and other easy fundraisers to help local victims, or participate in fundraisers with connections to nationwide charities.
Hold an Interfaith Service
While it is true that the terrorists responsible for 9/11 had Islamic connections, perpetuating animosity between faiths is never the way to best commemorate those who have served to protect freedoms both before and after 2001. Visit your church to arrange an interfaith service where everyone is welcome to share prayer, songs, and testimonies in honor of the brave men and women who died on 9/11 and who have dedicated their lives to everyone’s freedoms every day since.
Write to a Soldier
Thousands of soldiers are serving overseas to protect the security and freedoms of this country, risking their lives to ensure that similar atrocious attacks are never again allowed to happen. Brighten these soldiers’ service by writing a letter of thanks and appreciation through one of the many charities that manage this type of mail. If possible, connect with a local soldier and even consider arranging a care package with some home comforts to share.
Spend Time With Family
Many of the people who died on 9/11 left home that morning anticipating an ordinary day, but they never saw their families again. The scope of the tragedy can serve as a lesson to everyone to spend valuable moments with their loved ones every day, sharing one another’s lives and being the family you want to be. Take the time to enjoy a family meal, plan a fun activity, or otherwise share the life you are privileged to have together.
Honor Local Emergency Services
While much attention is rightfully paid to soldiers and the armed services for their service every September, on September 11, 2001, it was civilian personnel – firefighters, paramedics, police officers, EMTs, and other emergency response professionals – who made the greatest difference in saving lives. Honor your local emergency personnel for their service by baking cookies to share at a local firehouse, making donations to charities they support, or simply saying thank you with a heartfelt smile.
Help With Other Tragedies
It is too easy to get wrapped up in commemorating the events of the past and forget to look at the ongoing tragedies in the world around us. To ensure that the suffering of 9/11 does not continue through other events, take the time to help with other disasters. Hurricane relief efforts, earthquake recovery, and even simple efforts in your own home town will be welcomed and appreciated.
There is no doubt that September 11, 2001 will be forever remembered for devastation and destruction. It is possible, however, to both commemorate and celebrate that day by embracing the spirit of generosity, perseverance, and endurance that has continued to make the United States one of the greatest nations on earth.