Every year on Sept. 11, my family seems distracted. I was too young to remember that tragic day, but from the bits and pieces of stories I heard growing up, I know that it was one full of grief. My older sister would describe my family’s panic as they watched the television from their tiny apartment in Queens, crying with their cell phones in hand trying to get a hold of him. My mom would recount her experience riding the subway for the first time after the tragedy, emphasizing how every New Yorker still seemed to be in a state of shock. My dad described him as his best friend, and when I reached an age where I realized the weight of losing a brother, I couldn’t comprehend how my dad constantly managed to be one of the happiest people in my life. He would break up my sibling fights or friendship dramas with his staple saying, “Life is too short to stay mad at someone you love.”
We moved to South Florida not long after, and here is where my childhood memory becomes more clear. Though I don’t remember my uncle, I always come across reminders of his life. The pictures scattered in my grandmother’s photo albums; the tattoo on my dad’s chest; the lapel pin hidden away in my grandfather’s jewelry drawer that resembles the towers.
As a child, I remember these images making me sad and wishing I had known him the way my family knew him. Today, I see these things differently. I wonder how great he must have been to have touched so many lives. I can imagine my father as a teenager with his brother, making memories and holding them close even today. I can feel the love my grandparents have in the various portraits of him around their home. I can see the weight of his life still being admired and honored by so many.
Grief demands an answer and a face to blame. Most of the time there isn’t one, and we’re left in our uncomfortable sadness. What does that grief eventually turn into? What kind of people can we become after going through darkness? From what I’ve seen in my very short life, empathy grows from pain. Forgiveness grows from disappointment. Patience grows from unanswered questions. My parents and grandparents grew from their unimaginable loss.
Maybe tragedies like 9/11 can not only serve as moments to honor the lives that were lost, but as reminders to appreciate every single human being who has touched your life. Reminders that life is short, and though people are flawed, everyone deserves love. Would it be crazy to not be quick to cut people off? What if we were a society that gave people chances, and made them feel accepted? What if we began to meet people where they are, instead of constantly expecting behavior that serves our own needs? What if we realized that at the end of the day, we’re all just people looking to leave a mark on the world? We’ll never understand why tragedies happen, but we can choose to love all people unconditionally, knowing that in one way or another we will leave a mark on each other’s lives.
Natalie Santos is a junior double majoring in English literature and journalism.
Featured photo by Jared Lennon, photo & visuals editor