Eleven years ago, plus one day, our nation joined together and made a very solemn pledge: We said we'd "Never Forget."
At first these words appeared on simple, hand-painted signs hung near Ground Zero. They were later spoken by President George W. Bush, when he traveled to New York to see the damage first hand. Then in the weeks, months and even years after the 9/11 attacks, "never forget" became our rallying cry, our way of expressing not only our anguish and sympathy for those lost, but also our nation's absolute determination to exact revenge against those responsible, particularly Osama bin Laden. These words became so powerful, they gave birth to an entire industry of "never forget" memorabilia. There are literally thousands of items you can still buy online carrying images of 9/11 and the words, "never forget." T-shirts, posters, buttons, license plate holders, coffee mugs. That's America. If you can make a dime on it, someone will find a way.
But everyone knows that it takes a lot more than promises, mugs and posters to always remember. That's really the same as saying never forget. After all, people are not elephants. We forget. We do. Especially events that may be painful, difficult, and tearful to recall. We put them behind us. We try to bury the memories. We move on. It's how we survive. Imagine what life would be like if we truly never forgot anything sad? Ask a Chicago Cubs fan.
For relatives and friends of those lost, of course, things are very different. They'll never forget. That's not to say many haven't moved on with their lives. Some who lost husbands and wives have remarried and restarted their families. Some of taken new jobs, launched new careers, and rebuild their lives. What choice is there really? But no matter what, their lives are forever altered. The wounds might heal, but the scars never go away.
But for many others, and the nation as a whole, our natural tendency is to heal, to begin to grow again. And since September 11, 2001, America has done that. Things are different, but we have rebuilt. The death of Osama bin Laden last year, and the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 even seemed to bring a measure of closure to the tragedy.
I think about all this because, on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, despite the years that have passed, the fact that bin Laden is dead, the 9/11 Memorial completed, and the Freedom Tower now many stories high, America is remembering.
They are doing it in a remarkable way. By performing good deeds that help others.
Perhaps if remembering 9/11 was only about recalling the harsh memories of what the terrorists did to us, we would have lost our appeal, and audience years ago. But because remembering 9/11 today is also about helping others, making a difference, rekindling unity, and bringing out the very best in ourselves as individuals, and as a country, the 9/11 Day observance continues to grow. This year we once again expect more than 10 million people to perform good deeds in tribute to the 9/11 victims, and in honor of those who rose in service in response to the attacks. That's pretty remarkable. Decades from now, tens of millions of people will participate, automatically. And the notion of performing a good deed for 9/11 will be ubiquitous.
Visit 911day.org today to share your good deed and see what others are planning to do as well. To donate to the 9/11 Day Observance, and help keep this nonprofit movement alive, you can make a $25 contribution and receive an "I will" t-shirt. Or text DEED to 85944 to make a $5 donation.
David Paine is president and cofounder of the 9/11 Day Observance, created and organized each year by the 9/11 nonprofit MyGoodDeed.