On Choosing a 9/11 Legacy: Which will we feed?

Memorial Wall at the 911 Museum
A collection of 2,750 blue squares one for each of those who died at Ground Zero painted individually by artists in the color of the sky they saw on 9/11

In 2001, I was given the opportunity to help lead a team of support workers to Ground Zero. We began at an Aid Station atop a girder that fell from the South Tower. My experience there contained many blessings. They came with a cost. I would do it again.

Aerial view. The girder upon which we set up an aid station was at the base of the World Financial Building (It is the one with the round blue green roof on the bottom right) When the larger equipment forced us to move we moved beneath the walkway bridge between building anchored by the two smaller round green towers at bottom right corner.

As you can imagine, the approach of every anniversary of 9/11 creates waves of memories for me and lots of time spent in reflection. On the tenth Anniversary I wrote about my experience at Ground Zero for the first time. That post was called In the Ashes of My Brothers. The link to that remembrance is: https://joanneeddy.com/2011/09/11/in-the-ashes-a-9-11-remembrance-of-my-service-at-ground-zero/

I think you can see my feelings on revisiting Ground Zero at the 15th Anniversary of 911 and seeing the Memorial.

On the 15th Anniversary, I visited the Freedom Tower, Memorial Gardens, and 9/11 Museum with my daughter, Gretchen, (who is another blessing) and wrote about the feelings that being there invoked and the healing it created. That post was called Memories of a 9/11 Responder: Ground Zero Remembered. This is a link to it: https://joanneeddy.com/2016/09/11/memories-of-a-911-responder-ground-zero-remembered/

Our first aid station. Linda and Diane were two members of our team and were on the Night Crawler squad with my husband, Doug.

Two of my most profound blessings at 9/11 were my husband, Doug, a pastor and a founding member of Onondaga County’s Crisis Response Team, who went with our group, and the second was being chosen to go with the Salvation Army staff who shared this experience with us.

And now twenty years has passed. The cliche is so true, which of course is how truisms become cliche: It seems like it was yesterday and yet also a light year ago.

Our shirts and helmets. Memorabilia from Ground Zero displayed at a talk we gave on our experience.

The lead up to this Anniversary has been both very similar and extremely different. The poignant memories still come in sights and sounds recalled, in an almost real resurrection of feeling myself moving through the stifling dust, climbing through broken windows, breathing in the cloying smell. I can see the immense mountain of debris that was called “the pile” and watch the bucket brigade and rescue dogs climbing it. Even with my eyes open, I can envision the girder where we organized supplies, food, and water. I can feel again the pride I felt at seeing a tattered flag hanging from one of the nearby damaged buildings. And the intense connection that was forged for me and all who served together in that “fiery pit of hell” remains. I told the firefighters and police officers they were my heroes. They told me I was their adopted sister and called us their angels. For years seeing a first responder instantly took me back and brought tears. Even now, they still choke me up and stir my heart.

Today things have become so different. Then, everything, everyone felt so united. We as a country were all New Yorkers. We were Ground Zero, the Pentagon, Shankville. We were America. And the World was with us. Pettiness melted away in the searing fires of destruction that burned away the dross of lesser human traits. What was left, what I lived at Ground Zero, was honor and sacrifice, compassion and patriotism, commitment and heroism, unity and kinship. On 9/11 we were the United States and as we came together we epitomized the best of who we are as Americans.

President Bush addressed America and put it this way: “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. Today, our nation saw evil — the very worst of human nature — and we responded with the best of America. With the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.”

The terrorists who attacked us 20 years ago hoped to destroy us as a nation and a people. Instead, they drove us together. 15 years later, in 2016, the Pew Research Center found that “The importance of 9/11 transcended age, gender, geographic and even political differences…while partisans agreed on little else that election cycle, more than seven-in-ten Republicans and Democrats named the attacks as one of their top 10 historic events.”

Pew also found that, to this day in 2021, 93% of all of those old enough to recall the day, (aged 30 and above), remember exactly where they were and what they were doing on 9/11.

Twenty years ago, I was inundated by calls from friends and community members who wanted to serve. Twenty years ago children sent lunch bags of food and homemade cards with crayoned words of encouragement to the first responders. Twenty years ago, as we gave out words of comfort with water and food, no one cared about nationalities, politics, or differences of opinion. Twenty years ago, we were all neighbors, we were Americans, we were family and all that mattered was that we cared for one another.

Amongst the debris, those of us who were Christians, saw what appeared to be crosses everywhere.

That is why this day, this year, I am struggling. The sense of unity we felt is gone. It seems like a chasm has opened. The towering achievement of our commitment to our nation and to each other feels as if it has sustained another attack and divided us as perhaps we have never been before in this nation. The building blocks that make up our national life are falling, aflame with alienation, distrust, antagonism, disrespect, even hatred. What the terrorists could not accomplish on 9/11, we are inflicting upon ourselves, on each other, and on our country.

Cherokee Parable about the Two Wolves of Human Nature.

This has reminded me of the old Cherokee proverb where a grandfather teaches his grandson about human nature and life. He tells him that he has two wolves fighting inside. One is evil, filled with anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, lies, resentment, inferiority, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Certainly, the terrorists who hated America enough to drive planes carrying innocent people into buildings filled with thousands of others were consumed by the evil wolf. That is their legacy. Yet, twenty years ago the good wolf was nurtured by the First Responders in New York and at the Pentagon and by the brave passengers on United Flight 175 who stood up and gave their lives to protect their country. Today, however, I am left wondering over the two sides of human nature, which wolf is ravishing our land, and which we are now feeding.

Each day we lose more of those who raced into the fire to aid our nation and who helped us heal from the 9/11 attacks. Some we lose to age, some to diseases that came from their exposure to the toxins the raging fires released, some to the new scourge of CoVid.

Mark Twain said that true patriots are brave, yet scarce, because patriotism comes at a cost.

I write this to recognize and honor these patriots who paid that cost. I write this because I want to remember their sacrifice. I want to feel again the dedication to duty and to those we served. I want to experience the sense of wholeness in the middle of total devastation. I want to walk with heroes out of the ashes into unity of purpose, into the total commitment to others that true patriotism requires, into the love of country of over self.

Twenty years after 9/11 we face hard choices. I truly believe we must remember 9/11 and all who responded to it. We NEED to be reminded that a people united will never be defeated…no matter what we face. We NEED to rededicate ourselves to our country, to come together in unity, to put aside rancor. We NEED to be the best of America on this anniversary and every day so that we can continue to “secure the blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our posterity.”

To my country, with prayers for all who suffered that day and every day since, and for a return to the unity that 9/11 embodied.


About joanneeddy

Writer living in North Carolina. Originally from upstate New York. I love my family, my community, and my friends, and embrace 'living deliberately' in the world, trying to make a difference. I have written an as yet unpublished book, The Call, an epic fantasy with historical fiction and folklore elements. My blog is for other writers, for those who love a good read, and for all who, like me, are looking to find and live their call.
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9 Responses to On Choosing a 9/11 Legacy: Which will we feed?

  1. bobbieschofield@comcast.net says:

    Jo, what a lovely and insightful blog…you and Doug were wonderful….I still see you two sitting in my office as we strategized how and what we’d do which would be helpful. Bless you both!

    Liked by 1 person

    • joanneeddy says:

      Thank you, Bobbie! As you know, both Doug and I treasured this time and loved The Salvation Army. I firmly believe that God made sure Doug met Tom and I had you as a mentor. I am forever in your debt. Jo


  2. Clive says:

    It’s good to see you here again, Jo, but sad that it is such an event that has drawn you back. I wasn’t blogging back in 2011 but remember your 2016 post. Like this one, it was heartfelt, caring, thoughtful, and beautifully written. Take care.


    • joanneeddy says:

      Hi, Clive. It has been a very long time. Actually the evolution of the anger and divisiveness that I talked about in this post was part of the reason I quit blogging. I felt like I had no insights or vision to share in the face of it. Yet, this anniversary made me rise to the occasion. My husband has been pushing me to write. I have thought of a few possible blog post and also started one last edit on my novel manuscript. I still miss Senior Salon and all the gathered great blogs, though recently Bernadette has been posting great recipes on Facebook. Thank you for your lovely comments. God be with you, my friend. Jo

      Liked by 1 person

      • Clive says:

        I know it has been a long time, and I’ve missed your eloquent writing. As you say, your reason for going quiet is a sad one, but understandable in view of what has been going on over there. We, too, are divided with some of that anger and hatred, but it pales into insignificance compared with the US. All of what you said needs to be heard by many. I’m pleased Doug’s encouragement has worked, and it’s great to hear that you’re working on your novel again. Hopefully we’ll see some of those other posts, too. The Senior Salon is still going strong, the reins having been taken up by Esmé after Bernadette had to relinquish them. Those Facebook posts you mention are links from Bernadette’s new blog, which she began a few months ago. It’s good to see you both here again: it feels like old times! Take care 🙏


      • joanneeddy says:

        Thank you so much for the lovely compliment – and it does feel like the good old times! I remember our
        talks about Brexit and Trump and the legacies of each. I did not Senior Salon still exists, I am so happy about that! Sadly, I just tried to find it and couldn’t. Could you please send me the link? I would love to see who is posting there….I had found many on line friends there, including you. Are you still posting on it? Fondly, Jo

        Liked by 1 person

      • Clive says:

        Sadly, I think we were proved right in our thoughts on what those legacies would be: so much damage caused to both of our countries, all of which could have been avoided if politicians actually did their job rather than spouting meaningless slogans and implementing policies based on dogma rather than common sense.

        As I’m sure you know, Bernadette had to give up the Senior Salon but Esmé Slabs answered the call. You can find it at https://esmesalon.com/senior-salon/

        It usually gets around 30+ posts each week, a mixture of recipes, household tips, fashion, religious posts, blogging tips and me doing my bit for music and occasionally mental health. I’m not sure how many of them you will know, though! Several of the ‘old crowd’ are Facebook friends, like you, though not all of them are still blogging. I’d be interested to hear what you think of the current crop! Fond wishes back to you 😊


  3. Tom and Robbi Salak says:

    Well said and so true! Thank you for sending it to me!

    FYI: I have now moved to Raleigh! I’ll be glad to send my new address and land line phone number if you want them. My new cell phone and I are not yet on speaking terms!

    Robbi >


    • joanneeddy says:

      Hi Robbi! I haven’t done a blog in a number of years but felt like I had to for 9/11. I had forgotten that way back when the blog was set to automatically let people know when I posted It’s good to know you are here closer to your son and family. My cell number and email are the same as when we were in Edenton. We’d love to hear from you! Jo


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