Speaking at UC San Diego’s 9/11 Remembrance
It was an honor to be asked to speak at UC San Diego’s 9/11 Remembrance.
I struggled to decide what to say. Events like this are hard. What wouldn’t come across as cliché? What might be fresh? What isn’t over the top?
Below is what I came up with. It was gratifying to see how many people came out to remember what must be remembered.
The flags behind me contain the names of the people, civilians, military, and first responders, who lost their lives.
Thank you for being here today. I think that gatherings like this are so important. We ought to remember. We have to remember. And we have to build among ourselves, among our co-workers, families, and communities, a tradition of remembering this day. I really, personally, appreciate that you’re here.
We should remember the tragedy that occurred 18 years ago. The thousands of innocent people who lost their lives. The many more, around the world, who had the trajectory of their lives changed by that terrible day. Those who continue to suffer because of the events of 9/11. Or because of the events that followed.
There is much to mourn.
But that is not all there is.
We should also remember the heroism of everyday people. The heroes on flight 93, who with full knowledge of the risks, took action to save lives on the ground, and succeeded. Workers in New York, helping others to safety in the limited time available, and at the Pentagon, working to rescue others.
We should remember the inspiring sight of first responders, rushing to the scene, heading toward the danger from all over town, in any conveyance they could find. Their resourcefulness and steadfastness while confronting a problem with no solution inspire us today. Their sacrifices are still felt. The lives they succeeded in saving are making a difference in our world right now. The 9/11 first responders need our care and support still today.
And remember how we felt about our fellow Americans in the days after the attacks. There was a time period when we were a bit nicer to each other; even those in that other side of the political spectrum. For a time, our commonality as Americans, as fellow human beings, overrode our political differences. It didn’t last. And it’s hard to imagine now, judging by the news and my social media feed. But it was real. I remember it. Do you? We should try to reclaim some of that unity without waiting for another tragedy. We should try to remember they are fellow Americans, fellow human beings. There’s no need to wait. We shouldn’t wait.
Within the towers, and aboard the planes, there was fear, yes. But there was also love. Messages sent and left from people inside the planes and buildings to their loved ones. I thought about reading some here, but it was too hard. Reading through them gave me this sense of a giant outpouring of love emanating from the source of great tragedy. Love in such a forceful strength that the evil of the day couldn’t stop it. In their last moments, reaching out to those who mattered most with the messages that mattered most. That too, we should remember. And in that too, there’s no need for us to wait. We shouldn’t wait, to reclaim and to express the messages that matter most.
Very soon, there will be students reporting for classes here who were not alive on Sept 11th, 2001. It’s up to those of us who witnessed that day to keep the memories alive for future generations. And not just the tragedy of the events, though that can’t be forgotten. But also the unity and generosity we felt toward each other in the days after. And also the extraordinary goodness of first responders and everyday people, who in the midst of tragedy and fear, and right before our eyes, worked wonders of selflessness and love; proving that each of us is capable of it. Don’t forget. And don’t wait.
Thanks again for being here.