To be totally honest, I didn't even know there was such a thing as a National Day of Service on September 11th. I'd never heard of the "I Will" campaign, never seen an ad for it, never witnessed volunteers helping at my school or in my community. But apparently not only does it exist, but it mobilized as many as 33 million people last year who all went out and served in their communities or just decided to be kind to a stranger or a friend that day. Today, on 9/11/12, NCCC's Southern Campus held a 9/11 reflection meeting, then went out into Vicksburg and even all the way to Jackson for a day of community service.
It's a little strange to think about, because neither 9/11 nor the succeeding War on Terror have directly affected my life. I live a thousand miles from New York and D.C. and Shanksville, PA. I know very few members of the military personally and have none, at least of this generation, in my immediate family. Ditto firefighters, ditto-ditto policemen and emergency medical personnel. My taxes haven't appreciably increased because of the war, I have not been and am unlikely to be discriminated against in this country because of the 9/11 attacks, and while I've maintained a deep and lasting interest in 9/11 and the Afghan and Iraq Wars, they have yet to reach out and touch me. (Thank God.) I was in sixth grade when the Twin Towers fell, and at the time the death and destruction was impossible for me to understand. I simply couldn't concieve of death and suffering on that scale. Eleven years later, the events of 9/11 remain more historical than visceral to me.
I guess, to put it simply, I always focused on the results of the attack--two wars, an expanded national security complex, a new Cabinet department, a renewed and enhanced emphasis on secrecy, defense and security, and an ever-increasing number of bodies overseas--ours and theirs alike. The visceral, emotional impact upon a country that once seemed untouchable on its own soil (it had been almost 60 years since Pearl Harbor and 191 since the War of 1812) was lost on me. I guess this relates to my post about the long-term impact of disaster relief, where I focused once again on details instead of human stories. I never would have imagined something so widespread as a National Day of Service, designed to retake September 11th and make it a day of help instead of a tragedy, engaging people from coast to coast.
And yet, it makes sense. It actually makes a ton of sense. All of my associations with 9/11 are either absent or negative--bad foreign policy, bad domestic policy, a decade of war with no clear end or victory--because that's what the attacks inspired. The half-joke half-serious line in the years immediately following 9/11 was "...or the terrorists win". We do this, or the terrorists win. We go out and hit them in their heartland, or the terrorists win. But through our foreign invasions and occupations and all the death and sadness they caused, we handed them the biggest victory they could've hoped for. We became the enemy for millions of people. The history of 9/11 is not complete, would never be complete, without everything that that horrible day inspired in us.
But I said everything, not just our decade-long counterattack. The events of 9/11 have also inspired countless people to do good in whatever way they think best. The National Day of Service is about kindness, not vengeance... about service, not justice... and about the strengthening of life, not the punishment of death. It says 'You can't beat us because we're not even playing the same game. We're turning the other cheek. We're choosing to make ourselves stronger, not to give you the vengeance you want. We're taking the wound you gave us and making it a badge of honor and service.' The National Day of Service is our attempt to replace the memories of war and vengeance with a spirit of brotherhood, country-hood and service of those who deserve our thanks.
And so the members of the National Civilian Community Corps, like millions of like-minded Americans around the country, took time out today to reflect, remember and offer our aid. I washed squad cars at the Vicksburg Police Department and chatted with members of the force. Some of my fellow Corps Members went to the Vicksburg Fire Department or to local elementary schools; others served in other communities with other First Responders. We served all around this community, and we will--a few minutes from now--attend a community barbecue thrown to honor the service of the citizens of Vicksburg and of the NCCC. Helping, healing and serving are the watchwords of the day. Together with reflection and rememberance, I can't think of better.