Today marks the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. It is a day in which the families of the slain mourn their beloved dead, and we that do live take pause for remembrance. In a world that every day appears to grow increasingly militant and apathetic, it is the moments of sentimentality and earnest truth that we flock to. And institutions such as Saint Xavier take to heart a pledge to fulfill those truths.
Here at Saint Xavier, mercy and service are words that are as common as hello and goodbye. Founded by the Sisters of Mercy, this school has had a long and decorated history in the belief and practice of mercy and service in charity and goodwill to the misfortunate. But what do those words mean in the larger context of the world? What kind of potency do they have in the hearts and minds of people? Words are one thing but do they have substance to suffice the enormous baggage that those words bear, especially on days such as today? We only have to look at the heroism and self-sacrifice of the emergency workers that worked and perished 15 years ago.
Four hundred and eleven. That is the number of emergency workers that died in the largest terrorist attack on US soil. That’s 411 families which lost a beloved. And that does not even begin to account for the number of affected that knew and loved those who passed. Service, a word that has many meanings, according to its context, but one in particular stands above the rest, “contributing to the welfare of others.” When police kept the panic crowds from turning into horrendous trampling rivers, they were performing service to their city and their fellow citizens as expected of any officer of the law. Despite the horrible things we heard regarding the actions of the police that perhaps overreach their authority, we must remember their purpose and role in our communities, selfless service. After all, sixty police officers lost their lives doing the job they swore to do, protecting the people.
When the brave firefighters of the FDNY rushed forth into the burning and chaotic inferno of the Twin Towers, a distinction became clear. When people say those firefighters weren’t thinking of themselves as they rushed into the inferno, they are grossly wrong. Firefighters are human as you and I. They feared for their lives as any person. But what is so inspiring and distinguishes those wearing the black and yellow fire jackets and the citizens they were sworn to protect was the choice. They chose to run back. They chose to cast aside their own self-preservation in the sworn duty of service. Those that perished and those that linger, stricken by illness for their heroic deeds that day are reminders to us all of the importance of service. They should be remembered not as superhuman or the brave exceptional but instead as the valiant standard of which we all should strive as citizens of not just this country but of the world to be.
“Not everyone can be a hero, but we can all take that step toward the life of service.” -Chris Thach