This is how we remember September 11.
It was the morning. We were fourteen years old. Amy walked from her bedroom to her bathroom with her hairbrush. Jordan walked from his front door to his car door with his backpack. She pulled out her blow dryer. He put on his seatbelt. Both turned on the radio and heard the same news: Two planes had hit the World Trade Center. One plane had hit the Pentagon. Another had crashed in a Pennsylvania field. America was under attack — and at war. There was silence on the school bus. There were whispers in the hall. We sat next to each other in our high school Freshman English class that Tuesday morning and watched the Twin Towers get struck.
Over. And over.
We watched smoke and flames consume the New York City skyline. We watched terrified civilians run for their lives and soot-faced survivors tell their stories. We listened to vicitms’ final phone calls and then watched them jump from burning buildings. And we watched everything we knew the buildings collapse into a pile of rubble.
And we cried. (We still do.)
We cried because we had never seen a tragedy like this in our short fourteen years on the planet. Because people died without being able to say goodbye. Because of the orphans. Because of the widows. Because of the parents who wouldn’t even get to bury their children.
And because our own innocence was shattered.
That evening, the world stopped. We sat around the television screen with our families and listened to the Commander-in-Chief Mourner-in-Chief console a grieving nation. The following days were filled with bullhorns and banners, American flags and We Will Never Forgets. Our eyes were flooded with images of the New York City firefighters running up stairs when everyone else was running down. Our hearts were flooded with stories about Todd Beamer and the bravery of the passengers on United 93.
America was down, but we weren’t out — not by a long shot. And, slowly, like Americans do, we got back on our feet. We pulled each other up, pulled ourselves together, and pulled through. If there’s one lesson from that dark September day, one thing we can do to honor the heroes and the fallen, one way to ensure that their sacrifice wasn’t in vain, it’s to remember this verse from John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay one’s life down for one’s friends.”
What a powerful reminder for all of us. In the busy lives we lead, it’s easy to forget how to lay down our life while we still have it. It might mean rededicating your life to your marriage or your kids, mending a relationship with a family member, giving an encouraging word to a friend, lending a hand to a neighbor, thanking a first responder or veteran, or even going back to church. Whatever it is for you, you need to do it, and you need to do it now; because too many people would give anything in the world to have that chance again. Let’s honor our heroes by living our lives out loud. Hug your loved ones a little tighter, sing a little louder and, dream a little bigger, because God has blessed this great nation, and we will never forget it.
A version of this post was originally published on September 11, 2013.