My sister Maria was a hero! Many people share that with me when they learn that my sister died in the WTC North Tower on 9/11. But the fact that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time that fateful day is not what made her a hero. She was a hero long before that, a fact obvious to everyone that knew her.
Maria never subscribed to the Marvel comics idea of a hero: the person with super powers diving in to save someone from a villain. She most certainly believed in the villains, a role easy to cast the people who killed her: beliefs so strong they send their own people to death in the process of killing innocent civilians.
Maria’s commitment to her family, friends and causes demonstrated her belief that each one of us is a hero. She had a soft spot for men and women in uniform. She had to know by the sirens in Manhattan that day that hundreds of them were risking their lives trying to get to her and her coworkers.
The heroes of 9/11/2001 are those men and women of the NYPD, FDNY and the PAPD that faced what had to be among the scariest scenarios anyone has ever seen, and still proceeded with their jobs, knowing that if they didn’t people would die.
The heroes of 9/11 are the families of those fallen men and women: the children who lost a dad, the parents who lost a daughter, the spouses who lost a loved one.
The heroes of 9/11 are those men and women who risked their own health by working on 9/12 and for months after that in the most horrific crime scene in history, trying to save lives, recover the lost.
The heroes of 9/11 are the soldiers who took to the battlefields to fight the villains. Many of these men and women did not come home. Many came home with injuries and/or traumas they live with each day. These heroes have families that also live with the memories of lost loved ones, or with the daily struggle of handicaps and depression.
There is one more set of heroes from 9/11. Millions of people watched the heroes in action that day, watched the heroes in action on 9/12 and 9/13 and daily for months and years after, and made a decision to be a hero themselves. To spend more time with their family and friends; to spend less time worrying about their future and to focus on their today; to notice the people around them in need and take action.
The Villains of 9/11 looked at the 9/12 rubble and thought they put a good bruise on America. Sure that bruise hurt, continues to hurt.
But the 9/12 rubble revealed to us the superhero fabric that runs through this great country. Not one man flying in to save the day: instead a culture that values life, that sees the hero in each other, in our neighbors, even in the stranger we never met. A culture that risks our own safety, even life, to run into literal and figurative burning buildings. We are a culture that sends a generation of our best and brightest half-way around the world risking their lives to fight villains, to build schools and help rebuild a country.
The 9/12 rubble revealed a superhero fabric that knows that every person makes a difference. “It made a difference to that one”. The kid seeing hundreds of beached starfish, starts throwing them one by one back into the ocean, responds to the question from a bystander if he could make a difference: “It made a difference to that one”. We know that even the smallest acts of heroism are necessary.
We honor all the heroes of 9/11 by exploring our own superhero fabric, the same fabric that drove my superhero sister Maria not on 9/11 but on 9/10, and 9/9 and the 41 years before that. If you open your eyes you will see the beached starfish that needs your throwing arm. If you listen closely enough, you will hear the damsel (or dude) in distress that you can help. Helping will most likely not involve a burning building. And the evening news will probably not send a truck or a photographer to cover the event.
Do it anyway. The feeling of joy you feel after helping is the feeling that my sister and all the 9/11 heroes lived by, and the same feeling the Villains are trying to take or keep from you. “You made a difference to that person”.