By Congressman Sean Casten (IL06)
This guest opinion is based on a twitter thread posted on 9/11/20. He is a member of the Congressional Freethought Caucus.
I grew up in the NYC suburbs in the 1980s. I wasn’t living there in 2001, but still had lots of friends and family in the area. A good family friend was on flight 93. He was, among other things a pilot. We’d like to believe he had some heroic role in those final moments given his training.
I was working in MA at the time and was in the process of training a new sales rep when we were interrupted with news that “a small plane” hit one of the towers. It seemed insignificant, in the way that breaking news sometimes does. Of course, the news moved quickly and (by completely random coincidence) the power went out in our office. Caused by a line worker in our office park, but felt like the beginning of a national disaster. We sent everyone home. I called my wife who was on her way to grad school and told her I had no idea what was going on, but to get home. We met and watched TV for the rest of the day.
There is nothing heroic in my story, but for the universality of it. Our day was like everyone else’s in the country – and the world. We were panicked, heartbroken, confused, saddened, angry… and yet united by our common humanity.
And the day was a mix of almost absurd specificity (my friend on flight 93) and global generality (who did this? Why?) Even if you didn’t know anyone who died on 9/11, the nature of the event made it personal. This story from Esquire captures that vibe almost perfectly: https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a48031/the-falling-man-tom-junod/
Now to the current moment. We’ve lost more Americans to COVID-19 this week than we lost on 9/11. Each of the 192,000+ we have lost is also a very specific person with friends, neighbors and loved ones who had plans. Who may or may not have been heroic in their final moments. But who did nothing to deserve their fate. We can’t afford to lose sight of that. I’ll leave psychologists to explain why an individual friend’s death is more of a gut punch than the deaths of 3,000 (or 192,000) strangers. But the tragedy is greater, not smaller for the larger loss.
George W Bush, for all his flaws, understood that on 9/11. He reminded us we were all Americans. He reminded us this wasn’t about a religion. Most Americans, and the best of our elected officials still understand that.
So be strong today. Celebrate our shared humanity. Don’t sink to the level of those who can’t do that; model the behavior you’d like them to follow. #leadwithlove.