What’s the number for 9/11?

Some years ago before the 9-1-1 emergency system was commonplace, I was involved in a situation that created some momentary anxiety and actual panic. One of the participants was scurrying around carrying a portable phone and screaming, “What’s the number for nine-one-one? What’s the number for nine-one-one?!” It took a few minutes to convince him that you dialed 9-1-1 to reach nine-one-one.

Because the incident turned out to be less than critical his question became a source of humor and he took a fair amount of ribbing for quite some time. “Did you ever get the number for nine-one-one?”
Some years later those same numbers became important for a different reason and, of course, many people called nine-one-one on nine eleven. And now, ten years later the country pauses to honor and reflect on that event.

There are lots of numbers involved–including the number of lives lost, the number of emergency personnel who responded, etc. As I think about those numbers one number stands out. It is the number one.  This event provided us with a tremendous opportunity to face the power of one person–to do harm or to do good.

Ten years later: “We must remember. We must honor…” The “we’s” are important and they are being heard… but in our collective remembering and honoring, let us also not forget the “I.”

Honoring is, of course, often about remembering. Many will remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news. We’ll remember the wide range of emotions we experienced–disbelief, anger, sadness. And I suspect many will remember the sense of helplessness as the day unfolded.

We would also do well to remember the countless examples that day of how the “I” made a difference. I doubt that we could ever hear the countless stories of heroism, comfort, and perhaps simple words and deeds that made a difference to someone. Some might seem trivial in comparison to the “big stories,” but you can bet they weren’t to the individuals involved and affected.

So let’s hang out our flags today and do the remembering. But let’s also think about the “I” who has the opportunity to make a difference–to be a hero–in ways both large and small.

The National September 11 Memorial and Museum


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