Our Country Needs To Rekindle The Unity We Felt After September 11th

Opinion
ISAF photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joseph Swafford

Editor's note: This article first appeared in 2016 and is being republished for the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.


In the weeks following the September 11th attacks, I could barely get through the days because my brother Jimmy was lost in the World Trade Center. It was only through the communal support and encouragement of others that I made it through each day, waking up, and putting one foot in front of the other, then trying to do it again the next day.

Even though that cobalt blue day shattered my world, there was just something uplifting about how people reacted to such horror, simply because, as a nation, we were never more concerned for each other.

We were a country united. We can be that way again.

Millions of Americans came together for impromptu candlelight vigils from Chicago’s Daley Plaza to Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach.  

Dozens of neighbors huddled in my childhood home in Marine Park in Brooklyn bringing heaps of love and food.

The New York Blood Center received 36,000 units of blood donations.

A woman, who I will never know, gave me a soft blue tissue at our packed parish church, a tissue that I still have to this day because it not only dried my eyes, but touched my heart.

Cities and towns from across the country gave their very best firefighters to help at ground zero.

New York City would give its bravest as 343 New York firefighters gave their lives in an attempt to rescue people in the twin towers, including my brother, who had been trapped above the 102nd floor of the north tower.

We were also a country inspired.

From the very moment Brooklyn firefighters George Johnson, Bill Eisengrein, and Dan McWilliams raised the American flag over the rubble at ground zero, we were all galvanized.

A bronze relief sculpture is displayed on the wall outside of Ladder 10 located at the southwest corner of the World Trade Center.Timothy Hale

One by one, stories of inspiration flooded the headlines, like the indelible image of Firefighter Mike Kehoe running up Tower One, while everyone else was running down.

Stories like the two Marine veterans, Jason Thomas and David Karnes, who rescued two police officers pinned down under twenty feet of debris.

There’s also lesser known stories, like that of Brett Bailey who lost his life by choosing to help others down the stairs from the 71st floor of the south tower, rather than run down to save himself.

Related: I Learned To Understand Shame After Losing My Brother On 9/11 »

More personal is the inspiration provided to me by my brother Michael who let me cry in his arms at the subway station on Kings Highway in Brooklyn the day after the attacks, and my mother who was serving food to forty people in our living room, even though neighbors were clearly there to serve her, and my father, in the dining room, who looked me straight in the eye and told me everything was going to be okay.

The most inspiring, though, are the millions of veterans that have served in our armed forces since the day my brother never came home.

The author, Joe Quinn, then a member of the Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team, left, and U.S. Army Capt. Patrick Dowdell, chief of operations assigned to the 4th Infantry Division's 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, right, stand at the 9/11 memorial on Forward Operating Base Farah, Afghanistan, Sept. 11, 2010.U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rylan Albright

Why do I mention these stories of unity and inspiration?

Because 15 years after 9/11, with our current political climate, it may appear that we are a divided and uninspired country.

Don’t believe it.

On this anniversary of Sept. 11, for one day, shut off your television, log off Facebook, slide right to power down your iPhone and do a generationally difficult task:

Go outside.

Say hello to your neighbor. Go to the park. Introduce yourself to a stranger. Ask a police officer for directions. Perhaps be inspired to join the veterans, supporters and leaders of Team Red, White & Blue as they unite around the American flag in 133 communities across the country this Sept. 11.

For one day, don’t sit on the sideline, simply take some small step to connect with your community and be the inspiration that we all desperately crave.

Then, the next day, on Sept. 12, when the sun rises to a warm red-orange against the dewy white clouds of an eye blue sky, simply wake up, put one foot in front of the other, and try to do it again.

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