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Service: The Legacy of Sept. 11

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

It was slightly more than six weeks after my second child had been born by way of emergency C-section. Sleep-deprived and tired, I had left my two under the age of two at home with a sitter to get out and get some exercise.

Walking by the muted television in the workout facility, I saw out of the corner of my eye a plane fly into a building. A small, private plane, I thought. What I did not know was that it was American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles, a Boeing 767 that had been taken over by five hijackers. The hijackers had deliberately flown the plane into the North Tower of the World Trade Center a few minutes before 9:00 in the morning.

A second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center 17 minutes later. Thirty minutes later, the Pentagon was hit by a plane, and after that, a fourth plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.

My two children and I spent most of that day, and the following week, watching the continuous news reports about the events, the ongoing search and rescue operation, and development of the story. Who would deliberately use airplanes full of civilians as weapons to fly into commercial buildings with the clear intent of murdering thousands of innocent people?


The plane crashes were the result of 19 al-Qaida operatives hijacking four planes in a coordinated attack. Deliberate, planned, designed to terrorize a nation. Our nation was stunned, but quickly moved into action, with many people traveling to New York to assist and others volunteering for active duty in the military.

For the next few weeks, as I rocked my baby during the middle of the night, I could hear military jets out of Dobbins Air Reserve Base flying over our home. How would this attack affect my children's safety and their future? What type of nation would they inherit? I wondered, and I worried, as I rocked and rocked.

During this time, a friend asked me to serve as treasurer of Genesis: A New Life, a homeless shelter in Atlanta for newborn babies and their families. Overwhelmed by the day-to-day demands of caring for two young children, and worried about their future, I initially hesitated and planned to turn her down. Then I thought, If I was overwhelmed, what about the mothers of newborn babies who had no home, no support network and nowhere to go?

Yes, I would help. I had to help.

Last week, I heard Eric Greitens, a Navy SEAL and a best-selling author, talk during a Celebration of Service and Sacrifice 10 years after 9/11. Greitens talked about his training -- getting through it and how it related to everyone's front-line experience in life. In his SEAL training, in his class, about 10 percent of those that started finished the training. He mentioned three ways trainees could get out of the program. They could say, "I quit," ask for a DOR (drop on request) or ring a bell three times to signify they were leaving.

Most trainees quit, he noted, when they were thinking about what was to come; very few quit while doing something. The activity of doing something in the service of their friends is what kept them going, not the global war on terror or orders from above, Greitens said.

His message: Serve the people next to you, whoever they may be, whatever they may need.

My children don't remember the attack. Thankfully, they were too young to remember the numerous hours of television coverage that we probably should not have watched together in the days and weeks following the attack. They don't remember the sound of the military jets flying over our home in the weeks following the attack. What they will remember as they grow are the stories that my husband and I tell them: How we responded, what we did, how we carried on.

In retrospect, volunteering for Genesis was the best thing that I could have done as a response to the attack on Sept. 11. No longer focused on myself, focused on others. Genesis is now in a new, larger building and is serving more families and children than they were a decade ago.

Greitens was right. Maybe the best way to remember is to find a way to serve those next to you.

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