Just as most of us will never forget where we were on 9/11/2001, most of us will never forget where we were on 5/1/2011, the evening that the world was told that Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for causing so much unforgettable pain on 9/11, was dead.
For many Americans while the announcement brought some element of closure, for others it brought back the pain of that day. Nearly ten years later, despite how much our country has changed in many ways we are still a nation living under the ghost known as grief. (Click here to see some of the most extraordinary ways our world has changed in the last ten years.)
But despite 9/11 being the result of one of humanity's most cowardly acts, there were countless acts of courage and kindness from that day worth remembering and honoring. As a New Yorker then and now, I try not to dwell on the pain and fear that stemmed from that morning but instead on the many moments in which my fellow man and woman were inspired by that day to live up to the very best of what the human race has to offer. With that in mind below please find 5 lessons that I'm glad we all learned after 9/11.
5. That Firefighters are Our Heroes.
People always liked firefighters (and a lot of ladies have long loved them, and those uniforms) but something shifted on 9/11. We went from simply "appreciating" them for showing up to save us from blazes, to respecting them for showing up to save us from horrors beyond our imaginations, and doing so whether they are on the clock or not. Some of the casualties from that day were off-duty firefighters who answered the call of duty, men and women who didn't have to be there, who didn't have to sacrifice their lives, but did. In doing so they spurred a newfound level of respect for their profession that survives to this day. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 it was not uncommon to see people spontaneously applaud as fire trucks raced along the streets of New York. While the public applause may have died down, I know I'm not alone in saying that every time a fire truck whizzes by I still feel a well of emotion -- and respect.
4. That Americans are incredibly resilient.
We all know that our grandparents walked to school through 10 miles of snow -- barefoot -- no less. My grandmother didn't really attend school but did backbreaking farming and field work. Her American experience, and those of others like her, who endured segregation and so much worse, always made it a little hard to whine about the pains of blackberry thumb, carpal tunnel, or student loan debt. But as much as the experiences of those of us born after the greatest generation seem to pale in comparison in terms of ability to endure pain, suffering and struggle, the way that our entire nation stood together and stood right back up after being emotionally knocked down on 9/11 is something that all Americans, of every generation, should take great pride in.
3. That they didn't stop Making Great Generations After World War II.
Though it's been in vogue the last few years to rag on Generation Y -- those born after 1977 -- it's worth noting that as of last year, the average age of the U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan is 25. That means that "Generation 9/11," those whose formative years were shaped by the tragedy, have been the ones most likely to voluntarily give the ultimate sacrifice for our country since that day. So the next time someone sits down to type out yet another trend story about how lazy, unmotivated, selfish and entitled this generation supposedly is, I hope at least one sentence will be devoted to the brave men and women of this generation who are following in the footsteps of their grandparents in reminding us how courageous Americans -- of any generation can be -- particularly when it comes to sacrificing for our country.
2. That we really do have more important things to talk, argue and worry about.
I will plead guilty right off of the bat. In the last couple of months I have written about both the royal wedding and Donald Trump. Two things that in the big scheme of things matter as much as...well that don't really matter at all. (Although in my defense I did basically argue as much in my pieces, but I still wrote about them both nonetheless.) If we didn't get the message last week when the president first delivered it, now we all know exactly what he meant when he said during a press conference that he has more important things to think about and talk about, than distractions like whether or not crazy people believe he was born here, and we all have more important things to talk about too. It was a message that we seemed to absorb in the window of time immediately after 9/11, that there are issues that really matter and those that do not, but it was a message quickly forgotten. Hopefully this death of bin Laden is just the reminder we -- members of the media and everyone else -- need that some things matter and we should be a bit more selective in deciding what those things are and spend our energy accordingly.
1. That we are all stronger working together than apart.
You know what's extraordinary? To consider that U.S. special forces not only took out Osama bin Laden but did so without first arguing about who would claim credit, or who would take the blame if the mission failed or whether or not the party affiliation of the person working alongside them made he or she a worthy enough candidate to try to get the job done. There was a time right after 9/11 when that sense of unity described all Americans. For a brief moment it was as though every elected official in the nation had taken a maturity pill and finally understood that for once something wasn't about them -- or their party -- but about our country. Ten years later that sense of unity seemed all but forgotten. But as I watched my fellow Americans of every color, age and party affiliation under the sun celebrate the close of one of America's ugliest chapters on May 1st, my hope was renewed that we may just get back to those days after one of the worst days in our nation's history, when our nation was at our best.
This piece originally appeared on TheLoop21.com for which Goff is a Contributing Editor.