Humility, Compassion and Wisdom on September 11th

by David Potorti
September 8th, 2011


With the approach of every anniversary of September 11th, those of us who lost family members benefit from expressions of remembrance and concern from those affected less directly. How are we doing? Have we moved on? Are we feeling a sense of closure? We recognize that no matter who you are, this remains a time that prompts intense emotion—grief, anger, sadness, fear and worry—and that these feelings can rise up without warning. For 9/11 family members, those feelings remain a part of our lives. On some level, there is no moving on. There is no closure. There is only the reality that our lives changed on that day and the acceptance that they will be forever different.

Still, there are some ways we’ve mitigated our losses. One was to give up on the notion that we stood outside of the world and were somehow immune to its realities. After all, the physical losses of our loved ones were only a part of the losses we incurred that day: there was the loss of our imagined security, the loss of our imagined special status, the loss of our imagined immortality. An appropriate response to 9/11 might have been humility:  the understanding that at any minute each one of us can go spiraling out of this world as the result of war, of weather, of a weak heart. That all life is precious and fleeting, even ours. That we’re all going to die, one way or another, leaving our perfectly inspected bags behind.

From that humility might have grown compassion. Not just for the ones we lost but for others who have experienced, and continue to experience, loss as the result of terrorism, violence and war. Innocent families in Afghanistan and Iraq who have lost loved ones to the military response to 9/11. Members of the military who have died in combat or to suicide as a result of their deployments.  Families displaced from their communities as the result of political strife. Muslim-Americans subjected to bias and violence. Americans suffering from job loss and economic dislocation caused by the cost of war and rising military budgets. And all of us, suffering as the result of abandoning the rule of law and the Constitution, which remain the true sources of our security.

Ultimately, from that compassion might have grown wisdom. Seen beyond the anger, the cries for retribution and endless war, the lesson of 9/11 might be that we live in a connected world. That we have a shared destiny, even with those we fear or hate. That we rise or fall together, the rich, the poor, those with everything to live for and those with nothing left to lose.  As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” On this 10th anniversary of September 11th, let us honor those we lost by recognizing our kinship with people all over the world whose faces mirror those of our mothers, our fathers and our children.  Let us recover the sense of unity we experienced in the days after 9/11. And let us remember and return to the uniquely American values and principles that will guarantee peaceful tomorrows for everyone.

David Potorti is co-founder of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. His brother, Jim Potorti, died at the World Trade Center.

Filed in: Home, Voices of Peaceful Tomorrows

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