Politics and 9/11

This Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of one of the darkest days in our nation’s history, a day we will never forget. What started as a sunny September morning soon became a day filled with shock, worry, fear and grief as four airplanes, hijacked mid-flight by Al Qaeda terrorists, were used as flying missiles. Two were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center; another crashed into the Pentagon. The fourth crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers fought the terrorists and prevented them from reaching their presumed goal of either the White House or the U.S. Capitol.

Our nation would never be the same, and there will be plenty of television coverage this weekend detailing how those 102 minutes have shaped everything from our national psyche to air travel regulations today.

It’s not only the 15th anniversary of 9/11, it’s also an election year. Perhaps one of the best pieces of news to come out of this year’s political campaigning horror show is this: both Clinton and Trump have pledged to pause their campaigns to honor the anniversary of 9/11. Their decision follows the precedent set by all of the presidential candidates who have campaigned since the attack. Critics say that such a decision feels phony and contrived, but I for one, will be glad for the 24-hour reprieve, and grateful for an opportunity to reflect and remember – not only the tragic events, but also the feeling of unity that followed in the wake of that awful day.

With all of the senseless acts of terrors we’ve witnessed over the past fifteen years, both at home and abroad, perhaps you’ve seen this quote from none other than Fred Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

15th Anniversary Nearly 3,000 people died on 9/11. 411 of them were professional “helpers”: fire fighters, paramedics and a chaplain. Since that day, over 1400 more first responders have died
from health complications stemming from their work at Ground Zero.

And they weren’t the only “helpers”. There were also regular citizens just like you and me – from office workers to cab drivers, that showed up to help. This summer, the Washington Post ran an incredible story about Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell and Col. Rob Maness.Birdwell was injured during the Pentagon attack, suffering sever burns over more than sixty percent of his body with half of his face burned beyond recognition. Birdwell helped him by holding his IV to stop it from leaking, and assuring Maness that he would be okay.

For 15 years, Birdwell wondered if his promises had actually been true. Had that badly burned man survived? Was everything okay?

As fate would have it, both men ended up in politics, meeting once again, by chance, at this year’s Republican National Convention. The two men got to talking (Birdwell started Face the Fire Ministries, a non-profit for burn victims and wounded service men and women; Maness helped found an advocacy organization to prevent veteran suicides.) As the two veterans spoke of their experiences on 9/11, they quickly realized their connection.Now that they’ve been reunited, they plan to stay in each other’s lives.

It’s stories like these that remind us of what truly matters and what makes our country great. Beyond the political grandstanding and the divisive rhetoric we hear from party leaders, there are still ‘helpers’ – people who love this country, their fellow Americans, and all of humanity; people who are focused on creating good out of even the most tragic circumstances; and people with indomitable spirits who work quietly and steadfastly to honor this nation and those who died on September 11th.

Reflect, remember, and hold fast to what unites us this weekend,