The day before I had flown from Brussels, connecting through Newark, on to Cincinnati for a meeting the next day. My morning was free, so I went to get a haircut. The TV was on and suddenly there was breaking news. It broke our hearts and changed our lives. It was September 11.

In the weeks that followed, the shock slowly receded, and life began to move forward again. Despite the horror of it—maybe because of the horror of it–the shared experience brought people together, in many cases people who otherwise would never have connected. There was beauty in seeing strangers quietly supporting one another, looking out for one another, even if it was only something as small as a smile, a nod, an extra kind word, or “no, you go first”. 

What I remember most—what I want to remember most—is the resilience of people. They had experienced something terrible. They worked through it. And then they found their way forward, not by ignoring or forgetting it, but by incorporating it, learning from it, drawing from it, converting it to energy to propel them forward. That kind of resilience. It’s inspiring.  

A few weeks later, I was back in Belgium and my wife and I joined friends for dinner at a small restaurant in a town near Belgium’s border with France. We were about to leave when the proprietor approached our table and asked if we were Americans. He told us a story of what he and his parents experienced during the second world war, and he told the story with unbridled emotion that more than compensated for our inadequate French. He said he was with us and he loved us (even though he didn’t know us).

For September 11, I won’t ever forget. But what I most willingly remember is the beauty of the resilience people found within themselves and the beauty of the deeper and wider connection people felt with others (even strangers) through a shared experience, even though it was something awful. I want to remember these things just as much 20 years from now as I do today.

Published by Mitch Barns

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