Today is the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the worst terrorist attacks in our country’s history. For the last several months I’ve been thinking about documenting my experience, planning ahead to have something ready to publish today, but it hasn’t felt right and so here I am at 8:51am on September 11, 2021 gathering my thoughts.
Over the last 20 years I have intentionally avoided all media, movies, books, etc. related to the events of 9/11. My initial reaction being that I lived through that horrific day in New York City, so I certainly didn’t need any reminders of it. I also didn’t want to contribute to the sensationalism and capitalism of the events that were prompted by hate; killing thousands of people and affecting the lives of countless others forever.
In my plan to document my 9/11 experience, I sought out Ofir, a friend, who ‘rescued’ me from JFK airport on the morning of September 11, 2001. I wanted to compare our lived experiences as two people from very different backgrounds who spent this memorable day together. I wondered if he remembered it the same way I did. Ofir and I hadn’t spoken since the few months that followed 9/11, and yet when we spoke recently it was like no time had passed at all. It was wonderful to catch up with him, to share our recollections of that day, and know that each of us is doing well in our lives.
My conversation with Ofir left me reflecting on the light and dark sides of humanity. This is a man, who in the chaos of the early hours of 9/11, broke through physical barriers and risked his own safety and compliance with the law to ensure I was safe. It is a beautiful example of a selfless act amidst a state of great turmoil – the antithesis to the evil nature of the 9/11 attacks.
As my conversation with Ofir began to wrap up we talked less about the past and more about the present. He spoke in an impassioned way about his Israeli roots and his belief that the United States is a great country. He shared his experiences as an Israeli, Jewish, Republican man living in the U.S. today and how he feels alienated and fearful at times to be open about his heritage and political points of view.
There was hope after 9/11 that Americans would come together to build a stronger, more unified and resilient country, and for a time I believed tragedy was something we could all draw on for the grit, determination, and universal love this would require. Twenty years later however, one of the kindest, most loving people I know fears for his safety in his own neighborhood.
There is lasting impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that go far beyond much of what the mainstream media will talk about today and every 9/11 anniversary to follow. I have participated in the World Trade Center Health Registry annual health survey since its inception in 2003; it is the largest registry in U.S. history to track the health effects of a disaster, tracking the mental and physical health of over 71,000 people who were impacted by the attacks of 9/11 in New York City. The Registry has published over 140 research papers on short- and long-term 9/11 health outcomes, unmet health care needs, quality of life and functioning. This graphic displays research highlights of the last 15 years.
With the United States’ recent retreat from Afghanistan, and subsequent acts by the Taliban, I feel 20 year old wounds reopening. There’s a lot to unpack, and I start with examining my role in ridding the world of hate. I believe it begins with each of us as individuals to create the kind of world we want to live in.
My call to action is this: Starting today, with your own voice and power, do something to move us collectively toward a future where we default to love, not fear.