Editor’s Note: This essay also appears in the playbill for Come From Away at Ford’s Theatre.
When we think about the September 11 attacks, even 15 years later, the conversation often turns to recollections of our fear, questions surrounding our safety, and the positive and negative effects of our nation’s response. These discussions and concerns are justified, and these issues and feelings should be addressed. Yet, in this post-9/11 world, there is far more to consider and remember.
What was it that carried us through the days and weeks directly after the attacks? For many, the immediate answer may be family and friends, a kind stranger or a charitable group whose assistance was crucial to our coping and healing. These are the types of stories we see honored in Come From Away—how empathy, community and friendship overcame the fear of the day.
Many service organizations that were founded to meet the needs during the days after September 11 still exist and thrive today. For example, Tuesday’s Children cares for communities impacted by terrorism or traumatic loss. New York Says Thank You and HEART 9/11 are disaster relief organizations focused on survivor empowerment, education, the arts and rebuilding communities. HEART 9/11 also cares for veterans. These better angels continue the yeoman’s work that helped us individually and collectively get through one of the darkest times in our history.
Many organizations provide positive, action-oriented ways to pay tribute to the 9/11 victims and honor those that responded with service following the attacks. Organizations like MyGoodDeed promote 9/11 date-specific service opportunities to champion the spirit of unity and compassion that arose in the immediate aftermath of the events. Similarly, Pay It Forward 9/11, an offshoot of the Pay It Forward Foundation, encourages people to do three good deeds for strangers as a way to never forget September 11.
As a nation, we strive to forever honor those who lost their lives on September 11. It is essential that these losses never go unmarked, and that we remember not only these individuals, but also their families. On this 15th anniversary of September 11, 2001, let our remembrances be proactive. Instead of retreating into sadness, dwelling in fear or shifting blame, share in service with others and rekindle the spirit of unity and brotherhood that sustained us in our darkest hour. With deeds large or small, the same power that carried us through the days that followed September 11 can continue to aid us as we journey forward.
Shayla Roland is former Special Programming Manager at Ford’s Theatre. Follow her on twitter @