What “Never Forget” Really Means
Updated: Oct 11, 2019
On this day, 18 years ago, 2,977 innocent lives were lost forever. Since then, an almost equal number of firefighters, police and other first-responders have either developed cancer or died from exposure related injuries. Countless families were impacted by the tragedies that unfolded on September 11, 2001.
I was 19 years old on that fateful day. It was painful to watch, as the seemingly never ending photos of missing family members were displayed on the TV. However, out of that great sadness came great unity. For the first time in my life, I truly felt united with everyone around me... even complete strangers. We pulled together and were bonded by the love of our country… and of each other. Politics and party lines be damned, we were all citizens of these great United States of America.
“Never Forget”, that was the motto developed in the aftermath. 18 years is a long time, and many people that are now adults, were infants or otherwise too young to fully comprehend what happened. Out of this group, aside from those whose parents were lost, it is hard to not forget what you never really knew to begin with. Those words, as impactful as they are to people who remember that day, people like me, mean little to those who don’t.
This is actually a very easy concept to grasp. If you have parents or grandparents that grew up during The Great Depression, they have never forgotten how it felt to be lacking. You see this in their conscientious behavior about waste… and massive collection of glass jars and other reusables (Please forgive me for being a little facetious). I did not go through that, I have never understood what it felt like to be truly hungry, with no end in site. Therefore, as much as I understand the concept and history of what happened, my personal association to those events will never be very strong.
For those of you too young to remember the terrorist attacks of 9/11, let me help you understand what, “Never Forget” actually means. There is the obvious, on the surface, never forget the tragedy of lives lost and the heroic actions of many. Never forget how ambivalent and arrogant we were in our thinking prior to; how something so horrific could never happen here.
I actually think we have done a pretty good job of keeping those promises, even through education for the very young.
Then there is the deeper meaning of, “Never Forget”. This is the part that has been forgotten or rather, never understood by many people in their teens and twenties. Never forget what it felt like to be united as a country. To be united as sisters and brothers, treating each other with humanity. Strangers and friends, black, white, red, brown or yellow, democrat or republican… It did not matter (aside from the inappropriate action of a very few ignorant, scared people). We also thanked and appreciated ALL of our first responders, knowing very clearly the sacrifice they were prepared to make, each and every day, for complete strangers. We just witnessed it!
This unity is what must be brought back. We must emphasize our commonalities, while trying in earnest, to understand our differences. To empathize with each other. Utilize a different perspective. Become a community again, regardless of race, religion or political opinion. As divided as we seem as a nation, we have seen greater division in this amazing country’s history and reunited stronger than ever. Let’s also never forget that!
Have we fumbled the ball and made great mistakes along the development of this country’s path? Absolutely. Every country has because every country is developed by humans, and all humans make mistakes. No amount of talk, argument or symbolic measures will do anything to change anything. All we can do is learn from our mistakes and move forward, vowing to not make them again. This applies collectively and individually. Learn from the past but never feel like a victim, or feel guilty for your errors. Both are damaging emotions, that do absolutely nothing productive.
Stay humble. Realize that virtue always goes in both directions. More wars have been fought and people killed because both sides felt that they were the most virtuous. People look out for their own self-interests, or what they feel are in the best interests of their country, but no one, no matter how wrong you think they are, believes themselves to be evil. Remember this as well.
Whenever you believe you know better than anyone else, stop and contemplate why you feel this way. If you are truly wise, you will realize just how little you actually know. Let us once again become united, in the greatest country this world has ever known. Never forget all that has been sacrificed, to give us the freedom we enjoy today.