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One Year After 9/11: Broken, But Strong


Lessons Learned
Beginning Again


When I was five years old, I attempted to do a cartwheel, fell on my head and broke my collarbone in two places. After several weeks, the bone healed and I went on to complete a cartwheel successfully. But almost 25 years later, I still remember when it happened and how much it hurt.

In his book A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

One year ago this month, our country was broken by the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Almost 4,000 people were killed. Millions more across the United States and the world were left shaken, scared and angry.

Lessons Learned

In the wake of 9/11, we learned a number of important lessons about ourselves, our priorities and the world in which we live. Each lesson can lead us to some new decision or positive action.

• Life is precious. Each person killed on 9/11 was someone’s son, daughter, husband, wife, brother, sister, mom, dad, neighbor or friend.

After the attacks, many people placed a renewed emphasis on spending time with family, fostering relationships and doing things we had postponed because we were too busy. Suddenly, people realized the importance of living each day to its fullest.

Take some time today to tell someone you care about how much he or she means to you.

• Interreligious dialogue is important. Last November, Pope John Paul II spoke about the importance of different faiths coming together in the name of peace: “The tragic events that have shaken the international community in the past two months have made us all aware once more of the fragility of peace and the need to build a culture of respectful dialogue and cooperation between all the members of the human family.” He followed up with an interreligious gathering for peace in Assisi on January 24 of this year.

Learn about another culture or religion. In our community, the local mosque held tours so people would better understand the Islamic faith and its teachings. Make an effort to broaden your horizons.

• We live in a global society. Before 9/11, it was easy to change the television channel or skim over newspaper stories concerning the situation in the Middle East or the suffering and persecution of people in Afghanistan or Iraq. We considered these situations far removed from our everyday lives. The events of 9/11 showed us, however, that what happens throughout the world affects our daily lives.

Stay informed about what is happening in the world. After you read or watch the news, say a brief prayer for those suffering throughout the world. Get involved with organizations, such as Catholic Relief Services, that are working to make a difference.

• Religion is a source of comfort. Immediately following the attacks, there was a renewed interest in religion and faith. Polls indicated an increase in church attendance and a belief that religion had a more prominent role in public life.

Don’t wait until you are faced with a tragedy or difficult situation to turn to your faith. Practice your faith in ordinary times.

• We are surrounded by heroes. Heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. After 9/11, references to New York City’s firefighters and police officers as “the bravest” and “the finest,” respectively, took on a much deeper meaning. And the phrase “Let’s roll”—spoken by Todd Beamer, a passenger on Flight 91 that crashed near Pittsburgh as he and other passengers attempted to overpower the terrorists—became a rallying cry for people everywhere.

Recognize the heroes in your life—firefighters, police officers, teachers, Red Cross volunteers, etc.—and let them know they are appreciated. A hero could be living right next door to you, or in your own home.

Beginning Again

On the day of the attacks, I wrote a letter to my two young children. The letter began, “You’re not aware of it, but today your life changed forever.” I concluded with a quote by Elie Weisel, a Holocaust survivor from Romania: “When God created us, God gave Adam a secret—and that secret was not how to begin, but how to begin again.”

Plans are under way for rebuilding the space where the World Trade Centers once stood. The hole in the side of the Pentagon has been repaired and the fields have overgrown the scars of Flight 91 in Pennsylvania. Our country is going about its business within the global community.

As a way to help people mark the one-year anniversary of the attacks, the U.S. bishops have put together some resources, titled “Nine Days to 9/11: Looking Back and Moving Forward,” available at www.usccb. org/publishing/9-11/index.htm.

This 9/11, let us remember the men, women and children who lost their lives and those who mourn them, the injured, all those who worked on the recovery efforts, those who are fighting the war on terrorism and their families. Let us remember the lessons learned from this tragedy. And then let us move forward—broken, but strong.—S.H.B.

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