To Once Again, Never Forget

9 mins read

The month of September has always been a nostalgic time of year for me. The summer begins winding down as we transition into fall. With a new season, we begin a new school year and try our best to get good grades, or at least not be tardy to class as often. The falling temperatures and leaves remind you that “sweater weather” is on the way. But as we grow older and wiser, we learn that nostalgia can be bittersweet. And on the 11th of September, we all pause for a moment because we promised to, “Never Forget.”

I lost my friend Dr. Paul W. Ambrose that day. He was aboard flight 77 and was heading to California on that cloudless Tuesday morning. I have known the Ambrose family my entire life. I was in the TAG (talented and gifted) program in elementary school. Paul was in the sixth grade and had mastered every impossible math problem you fearfully faced on the day nearly all students dreaded – Math Field Day. After nearly losing credit for a math problem he had solved because the teacher couldn’t read the answer, I said, “We will beat everyone if you let me write down the answers to the math problems.” He agreed and we won. If it were not for Paul’s father, Dr. Kenneth P. Ambrose, being my advisor during my first semester of college during the fall of 1991, I know I would never have become a college graduate. His brother, Scott, was also a friend of mine who passed at the age of 31 from unexpected natural causes in 1998. His mother is a retired nurse who worked with my sister-in-law for many years. And his beautiful niece, sweet Alex, is an adult now who is living her best life.

Every year is a grab bag of emotions when this day arrives. I know in my heart that each person who lost someone they cared about on September 11, 2001, likely struggles with these emotions, as well. Some years I will go to the gym, to work, or the grocery store without a second thought. Then there are the years when I plan to come in to work a few minutes late because I will know when it’s 9:37am and I don’t want to have a breakdown at my desk. But EVERY year, my heart hurts because so many people I care about and love are hurting. I know I will always shed a warm, angry tear, but it’s always different. This year – it’s more than simply different.

The COVID-19 global pandemic is directly impacting each of us. Over 192,000 Americans have lost their lives thus far. As the global hotspot for this pandemic, America will continue to experience loss in unheard-of proportions. The immense grief caused by COVID-19 has been unbearable, yet we merely press pause and simply continue piling on more grief. There never seems to be a moment of respite from our economic or political situation; there is upheaval and we are weary.

This year, I wonder how many of the people we lost on September 11, 2001, would have stood up and gotten into “good trouble” with the rest of us? I know my friend Paul would have. He was already fighting the good fight. Paul had been working with former Surgeon General, C. Everett Coop. Paul didn’t forget his home state and proceeded to study West Virginians and determine why people who lived in poverty were so disproportionately overweight. His studies exposed how easy it was for a poor person to buy a $.99 double cheeseburger rather than a $5.00 salad. Nutritional and physical fitness programs began in public schools across the country. You may or may not have liked how this impacted your access to junk food when you were in grade school. Nevertheless, Paul’s career was in its infancy and I knew he would always be a leader. I thoroughly believe Paul would have one day became the nation’s Surgeon General.

I believe that each person we lost on September 11th or to the COVID-19 pandemic had lives that were as important as Paul’s. We will never know what these people could have accomplished. We must remember them and the ways in which they touched everyone’s life. We cannot drive ourselves mad and dwell on what they would have done. We must push ourselves to fight through this and learn from it. Because we know that is what they would have done, too. Our pain silently unites all of us but we are so resistant to one another. The social, political, and socioeconomic dissonance stands in the way for us to console one another.

There is not a collective healing from the COVID-19 pandemic the way there was after the attack we took in September 2001. When I meet new people who lost a loved one that day, we always seem to have a conversation about it and part with a kind word or a hug. In contrast, our country is currently separated by harsh ideological, economical, and political division. It feels as if we have taken all the progress we have made and allowed it to slowly slip away. As a society, we struggle to keep up with the disorganized leadership and constantly changing information as we attempt to quickly move through each stage of grief. This social lethargy has made so many of us frustrated, exhausted, and angry.

The Coronavirus pandemic is the largest national tragedy I have experienced in my lifetime since September 11, 2001. I am aware of the pending loss of lives and I feel the anger over constantly wondering how the hell this happened. The lack of unity in our country and the staggering number of missing Americans breaks my heart on this September 11th. I want to reach out to people and reassure them that I care about them without having someone try to spit on me if I’m wearing a mask in order to protect myself. I want people who feel that wearing a mask is infringing upon their liberties to take a seat next to the family member of a loved one who is about to pass away from this virus. I want them to feel the anguish and helplessness you feel when a virus prevents you from comforting a loved one as they transition from this life. I want empathy to return to our lives and hearts.

Then, I simply want you to go forth and respect humanity and the dignity we share with one another. I want our president to have compassion and a desire to comfort us. I want us to take the pain we have over what has happened to us and let it teach us to, once again, never forget.

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