Have We Forgotten?

Never forget.

Those words will define a very specific horrific event forever. Like everyone else, I remember exactly where I was when I heard the tragic news on September 11, 2001. I was just beginning what would be my last year as a teacher in a small elementary school in the suburbs in Akron, Ohio. On that particular morning, I didn’t have students, and I was working on a video for our Open House assembly. In the little editing corner of my classroom, I had a small black and white TV which I used as a playback monitor. I never turned the television on, but for some reason, on that day it was on in the background as I worked. Stunned, I watched the footage of the breaking news.

Panicked parents, having learned the news, rushed to the school to take their children home and in some way keep them safe. For the next few days, as people struggled to make sense of what had happened, the images were everywhere.

I remember my sister sobbing with anguish in not knowing how to explain this horrible thing to my nephew, Clay.

At home, she tried to keep the television on cartoon channels – anything but the horrible images. But it was impossible to shield him from the news. She desperately searched for words that would make sense to a 6-year old, even when grown-ups couldn’t find words that made sense.

I remember sitting down at my computer with this flood of images wondering how I would make sense of them. And, like others I assume, I found comfort in demonstrations of human kindness, people helping people, and remarkable courage.

I remember thinking that the footage of the planes crashing into the buildings would forever be part of our historical archive.

Clay would see it along with the rest of us for years to come. But I wanted him to know how we got through it…. how we survived it…. how we came together as human beings. 

Despite this horrific tragedy, we demonstrated incredible resolve as a country. That’s what I wanted him to know. I wanted him to know that out of this inconceivable horror came goodness. Fire fighters and police officers who were so incredibly selfless and brave, people of all colors, religions, and political affiliations coming together in a way I had never seen before in my lifetime. Sixteen days after the event that would forever change our nation, I again sat down at my computer to create another video – one that I could give to Clay when he was old enough to understand the evil and the hate… and the bravery and the compassion.

Buried in a box along with the front page of the Akron Beacon Journal dated Sept 16, 2001 and a few magazines that focused on the heroes, I found that DVD that I made 18 years ago. Today, Clay is 24 years old, and he’ll probably watch the commemoration ceremonies with the rest of us. Because he’s never known a world without mass shootings and terror threats, I wonder if he will ever grasp the magnitude of that event…how inconceivable it was. And I wonder if he’ll ever find the only comfort we could find back then – the resolve to come together as a nation and be better human beings.

Are we stronger? Are we better as a nation? Are we better people – good, kind, empathetic and inclusive despite race, religion, or sexual orientation? Have we learned nothing from the convictions that brought us together 15 years ago? I watch the violent rallies and protests and I listen to the hateful name-calling on the media today and I’m not sure. I see racist, insulting, ignorant images and memes everyday as I scroll through social media. I read stories and struggle to comprehend the statistics of senseless murders, the hateful rhetoric of racism and bigotry, and the assertion that military style assault weapons are justified as “a Constitutional right.” I read stories about people who are fighting for clean drinking water and listen to the debates about children being taken from their parents. And I think about what we are doing to each other and our planet.

Are we stronger? Are we better? And, how do we explain this kind of behavior to our children… those little people who are watching us and forming their own perceptions of the world influenced by grown-up words and actions?

Today, as I hear and read the words “Never Forget,” I wonder what people are remembering. Are they remembering the horrific images, the way our country used to be before that tragic day, the way that day changed the world? Or are they remembering our resolve, the way we helped one another, lifted one another up, grieved together and healed together?

Have we forgotten the heroism and the humanity that rose out of the rubble and devastation that was etched in pure evil? Have we forgotten that country that came together and survived?

Have we forgotten?

This is the video that I created for Clay 18 years ago.

Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Dr. Melissa Hughes is a neuroscience geek, keynote speaker, and author. Her latest book, Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round explores fascinating research about how the brain works and how to make it work better for greater happiness, well-being, and success. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies to illuminate the powerful forces that influence how we think, learn, communicate and collaborate. Through a practical application of neuroscience in our everyday lives, Melissa shares productive ways to harness the skills, innovation and creativity within each of us in order to contribute the intellectual capital that empowers organizations to succeed with social, financial and cultural health.
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Shelley Brown

This is so incredibly powerful and thought-provoking Melissa. I read it about 2 hours ago and could not stop thinking about it. The first thing I thought about this morning when I woke up was the families, then I thought about the rescuers followed by thoughts of my flight today. When you pose the questions of what we remember and what we’ve forgotten, the word that comes to mind is compassion. Compassion for the shared human experience. I believe we are suffering due to a lack of compassion for a variety of reasons and I believe this lack of compassion closes off our memory of how we came together with resolve to grieve, to care for and heal each other. Your article also has me thinking about my own feelings about where I live. We moved to Baltimore a year ago and I am struggling with my own feelings of aversion rather than compassion in such a high crime city and what can we do to become better “stewards” of the younger generations. The video you made is achingly beautiful and I am grateful Clay has you and a wonderful mother who hold his heart like a treasure.

Larry Tyler

Powerful, sad, and leaves us with a desire to make the world a safer place to live.

Maureen Nowicki
Maureen Nowicki

Melissa, I am Canadian and I can remember the exact place I was at working at a local college when the tragedy occurred and all things were frozen to immediately focus on what our neighbours to the South were going through. I believe that just happens as we indubitably feel connected to you. I also just had a conversation last week as the anniversary date was coming and we did together express our sorrow, our hearts went heavy, and we also discussed the camaraderie of people in the US coming together. We just took a moment to be reminiscent about that extremely devastating time and actually give it some honour in our day. I feel in my heart the world at some level will always feel connected and have such respect for the humanity and the heroism that the United Stares demonstrated. Some truly phenomenal role models for the rest of the world to take into our hearts and experience. Thank you Melissa.

Len Bernat

Melissa – Sad truth in this piece – it seems the enemy had accomplished its purpose and brought fear and discord to our nation. I weep.

Jeff Ikler

Thank you, Melissa, for a beautifully written, heartfelt, and probing post. 9/11 is indelibly etched in my mind. I flew over the twin towers just 15 minutes before the first tower was hit. I was on the Boston to NYC Delta Shuttle, as I was at least once a week back then – thankfully not a flight that carried a lot of jet fuel, as did the planes that were used as murder weapons that morning.

On my first trip back to ground zero, my tour guide was Joe Torillo, a first responder who was buried by rubble twice that day. Joe is now a much-in-demand speaker, not just about his incredible experiences that day, but about personal leadership, patriotism, and embracing change. Simply a wonderful human being. Joe and I have stayed in contact ever since.

As I live in NYC, I’m frequently asked by guests to take them to ground zero. It is a solemn place, and most visitors respect that. I am dumbfounded, however, by those who merely see it as an opportunity to take a smiling selfie. I kid you not.

Finally, as a long-time student of American history, and a former classroom history teacher, I’m not surprised at all by the visible signs of “hateful rhetoric of racism and bigotry.” Those behaviors, unfortunately, are as American as anything else that defines us. Sometimes they simmer below the surface of our speech and action, other times they are more omnipresent. We kid ourselves to believe otherwise. The only way to combat them is through our individual interactions.

Joel Elveson

Great article, Melissa! You are asking some very important questions that do not have concrete answers. Our country was attacked by those who hated what America stood for as well as our way of life. Hopefully, we are militarily stronger with more significant intelligence gathering and defense capability. To a degree, we are stronger mentally as a nation but we are also very fragmented. It would not suprise me to learn so many people have forgotten what happened on that most awful of days. As for me personally that day the first child to dear friends of mine was born. My son was stuck at school with no way to get home. My wife and I were so scared we would never see him again. On a regular basis to keep that day in mind. I watch many graphic videos on YouTube where you can see the planes impacting both towers along with the collapse. You see the devastation. There is no way that you can ignore how those who lost friends, family, etc. must have felt or are still feeling today. The reoccurring theme we Jews use when talking about the Holocaust is NEVER AGAIN that we should never forget and make sure the words NEVER AGAIN are kept. Yes, our country has very hateful elements to it with the additional concern that there are people both domestically and internationally who want to attack us again. Hate can partially be eradicated by education but more importantly, we need to understand and accept each other as people while respecting each other’s religious beliefs and culture. A healthy dose of love and kindness will help as well.

Noemi Zarb

What a heartfelt and heart-wrenching post! I often regard today’s lack of compassion and of spirituality as a devolution of the human race. At the same time when I see and experience the kindness of people, of strangers even, it gives me hope. Although it’s a long and uphill struggle, believing that love begets love to overcome how hate begets hate is our only hope. And we need to live this belief in our daily lives if we want the ripple effect to trigger the flow of a mighty river of humane humanity.



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