The saying “we will never forget” is burned into the legacy of my generation. We went to bed in one world, and woke up in the next. Everything changed. I was half asleep, just waking up for my second week of classes when my roommate’s dad called and woke me up. I can still picture the phone we had in our room, turning on the TV, so many details from that morning are etched into my memory.
I also remember a friend on my hall, new from India, who we stood by to protect. He found himself feeling unsafe in public, not because he was doing anything wrong, not because he was a Muslim (he wasn’t), but because he was brown skinned. We all made sure we went with him whenever he had to go somewhere. He didn’t travel around alone for nearly a month. I also remember the interesting, powerful conversations I had with another hall mate and friend, Adnan. He was both Muslim and Pakistani, and one of the nicest, most peaceful, intelligent men I have ever met. I also remember the helpers. A whole college full of kids that made their way to the nearest hospital to donate blood while waiting to find out if Flight 93 was heading toward nearby 3 Mile Island. The auditorium full of young people sharing uplifting stories, or the friend I hadn’t met, who lost his mom in the towers. I remember so much of those days.
Fast forward 16 years. What I remember and associate most with September 11th isn’t terror, isn’t the horrific change in the world that took place on that day, but the story of one man, Joseph Tomasello. He wasn’t a first responder, though I have a good story about one of them too. He was a helper. Called to duty by his country to help sort through the debris and rubble. He was given inadequate safety supplies, but he worked tireless hours to help clean and sort through the mess. He is the person I now think of most, that I remember most. Mr. Tomasello has since passed from a years long battle with cancers he gained while working in the rubble of the World Trade Center buildings. The most memorable thing I remember is asking him, “Do you ever regret that you did it? Do you wish you had said no? You wouldn’t have cancer now.” he looked at me and said, “I will never regret my service to my country, nor to the people who suffered during that day. Do I wish I had better gear? Sure. But if you are asking if I would have not gone knowing what the outcome would be? No. I would go every time.”
I am always in awe of his conviction to helping others. This is the legacy we must remember. We won’t forget the many images that those planes burned into our minds. If I never saw the films again, I would still be able to picture it clearly. But what we must truly remember, is the spirit of the promise of America. Together we can do great things. Our nation has forgotten all that we hold dear only 16 years after that fateful day. People like Joseph Tomasello deserve better, and so do we all.