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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Making sense out of tragedy years later

By Jim Bergstedt

8:50 a.m. I am sitting at my desk, speaking with Eileen, one of the staff members of the curator’s office at the U.S. Supreme Court. Eileen’s daughter from New York City telephones her. She is standing on top of her apartment building, six blocks away from the Twin Towers-close enough to see what she then describes as a tragic accident.

8:51 a.m. We hurry into another office to find a television. The curator is already riveted to the screen. We sit in disbelief, but return to our office to begin the day’s work. We, too, believe it is a tragic accident.

9:03 a.m. Eileen receives a second phone call from her daughter. Another plane has crashed into the second of the Twin Towers, she says. Eileen is frantic, confused, scared. This time we run to the TV to see for ourselves what has happened. We realize it is more than a tragic accident.

9:43 a.m. We receive word that a third plane has crashed, only this one much closer to us-the Pentagon. A fourth plane is unaccounted for. Possible targets are the White House, the Capitol across the street from us, and even the Supreme Court. The justices of the court are escorted out of the building and taken to safe quarters.

Now the rest of us are frantic, confused and scared.

We wait for orders from security on what to do and where to go. After what seems like an hour, we exit the building and cross the street to a residential area. The streets are packed. The Metro is shut down. There is nowhere to go.

10:10 a.m. We receive word from the police that the fourth plane has crashed in Pennsylvania.

11:15 a.m. The curator drives the interns to our apartment in Alexandria. We pass the Pentagon and see the smoke. Countless people have taken to the freeway-by foot. They’re headed anywhere they can get, as long as it is not into the city.

This was Sept. 11.

But most people returned to work the next day-our nation’s capital lived again. People were more thoughtful. They waited their turn. They seemed more patient. They were more understanding and helpful. They were courteous.

This was Sept. 12.

It is what I choose to take from Sept. 11-the aftermath.

There are reports of random acts of kindness in ensuing days. Here is one of them. A woman was severely rear-ended by a man shortly after the terrorist attacks. This man drove an old, beaten down automobile and had no insurance. Normally quick to anger and vengeance, the woman thought for a minute about the poor man and how his life would be affected if he were forced to repair her car. She decided to let him pay her in his own way and in his own time. She said the events of Sept. 11 had changed her perspective on life and the way she treats other people.

This phenomenon was not limited to Washington, D.C. On Oct. 1, 2001, in a poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, 63 percent of those polled said that Sept. 11 had caused them to be more courteous and friendly toward strangers. Ninety-two percent of Utah residents confirmed that they had a deeper sense of patriotism after the attacks. And 43 percent said they were praying more often.

The same poll was conducted 10 months later. All of the numbers were down from nearly one year before: only 47 percent said they were more courteous and friendly, 80 percent claimed to be more patriotic, and 31 percent said they were more religious.

I am not aware of a third poll conducted with the same criteria, but my guess is that those numbers have fallen even more.

It is time to let the memory of Sept. 11 change us again.

It is important to remember the victims of the attacks, the men and women who risked and gave their lives to save as many as they could and the family members and friends who lost loved ones that day.

But what is the purpose of remembering them if it does not impel us to action, to do some good thing that, when combined with all other acts of service, prevents this type of act from occurring again?

There are groups who are currently working full time to make Sept. 11 a national day of service. This is very appropriate. What better way could there be to pay tribute to those who lost their lives than to look outside of ourselves and serve others in some unique way?

One Day’s Pay, a California based non-profit organization, is one among many groups that is committed to this end. PNNOnline, a non-profit news Web site, quotes David Paine, director of One Day’s Pay. Setting aside Sept. 11 for helping others “would be a constructive way of turning something horrible into something that would forever keep alive the spirit of selflessness that was demonstrated by so many people on that day and for many days afterward,” he said.

The goal is to focus any anger or frustration we feel about Sept. 11 in a positive direction, primarily service to others. But whether or not it becomes recognized as a national day of service, we can all benefit from asking ourselves the following questions each day: Are we courteous in our encounters with friends and strangers alike? Do we look for ways to help other people, even when it is not convenient-especially when it is not convenient? Are we more faithful? Are we more patriotic?

If we can answer in the affirmative to each question, then we move forward. If we cannot, then we have work to do.

We can best serve the victims of the terrorist attacks-both the living and the dead-by remembering how we felt that day and how we were changed by what took place and by doing something about it, again.

We must allow the memory of Sept. 11 to change us once more.

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