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5 lessons from 9/11 that won't be in the history books.

Sept. 11, 2001, taught us things that will never make it into the history books. It's time to pass those lessons on.

5 lessons from 9/11 that won't be in the history books.

Today is the anniversary of 9/11.

Right now, there are teenagers walking around texting, having their first kiss, and skipping class who have lived their entire lives after Sept. 11, 2001. Isn't that crazy?


I've been thinking a lot about kids lately. I've imagined what it would be like to raise a little human one day, and I've pictured all the memorable experiences that we will share together.

Photo by Sabine Nuffer/Pixabay.

But it hit me just how many major moments in world history, like 9/11, that I have lived through that will be nothing more to my kids someday than pictures in a textbook or the subject of a summer blockbuster movie.

These children will probably learn the details of that day in school. They will read how many people lost their lives and about the political response that ultimately led to the war in Iraq.

But that time was so much more than news events and politics. 9/11 taught us deep lessons about life, humanity, and ourselves that will never make it into a history book. Which of those special lessons will we pass on to the next generation? Here are my five:

1. There is no such thing as "far away."

From the moment the towers fell, the news was full of theories about American "interests" and actions abroad. For those of us who were younger and not personally connected to any country outside the U.S., it may have been the first time we'd really given any thought to the relationship between the other side of the world and our own personal lives — let alone Middle East politics. It was the awakening of the idea of global connectedness for us.

Photo by Vano Schlamov/Getty Images.

It also exposed us to the love and support of people all over the world who had no reason to care about our pain beyond the simple fact that we are all human. 9/11 taught us that what happens in one place has ripple effects that extend across the globe. We should never stop looking out into the world and paying attention to issues, cultures, and global realities different from our own. We should never stop recognizing that it's our common humanity and our capacity for empathy that connect us all.

2. You can't put a timeline on healing.

Just last month, survivor Marcy Borders — who was photographed covered head to toe in dust in an iconic 9/11 photo — died of cancer at the age of 41. She believed that her illness was directly connected to effects from that day. And she may have been right. The CDC's World Trade Center Health Program reports that thousands of survivors and first responders have been diagnosed with cancers that resulted from the attack.

Healing from trauma can take an unpredictable amount of time.

These stories and the stories of survivors still battling PTSD offer us a valuable lesson: Just as America is still dealing with the vicious legacy of slavery over a century later, just as victims of childhood abuse may struggle with the effects well into their adulthood, healing from trauma in any form can take an unpredictable amount of time. The scars aren't always obvious and they usually can't be erased with a quick fix.

That's why we have to be able to look beyond what we can immediately see to be compassionate, understanding, and supportive of those who have been hurt — for as long it takes.

3. Behind every major headline is one person's story begging to be heard.

For weeks after the attacks, you couldn't turn on the TV without seeing a slideshow of faces. Every photo of a 9/11 victim was accompanied by a name and a story. Every person became more than just a number. They became real. Seeing their pictures and stories made me feel love and solidarity in a way that opened up my heart.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

I learned then about something called statistical numbing. It's why we're less able to process the pain of thousands of people dying than we are when we hear the story of the loss of a single life. 9/11 helped me to think of every major story in the headlines — the mass genocide, hunger, and injustice that we hear about every day — as one person's story. Remembering this lesson can grow your heart a thousand times and inspire true empathy.

4. Your values will always be challenged in times of chaos. And that's exactly when they matter most.

I recently asked a friend of mine what she remembered about 9/11. Her answer shook me to my core. For her, it was the day that she started being harassed and mercilessly bullied at school. That was the day her parents sat her down and told her she was no longer safe. And that was the day that set in motion a series of events that ultimately forced her Muslim American family to move to a different neighborhood for fear of hate crimes.

After 9/11, America was so gripped with grief and panic that we allowed some of our most important values — diversity, equality, and privacy, for example — to be overtaken by fear. Just a quick look at the hashtag #AfterSeptember11 on Twitter reveals how many people are still suffering the consequences of this. What I learned in the aftermath of 9/11 is that, in the face of fear and chaos, it's vital to hold on to your values tightly. It may be difficult, but that's when those values are most at-risk.

5. There is a never-ending supply of good in the world.

It sounds cheesy, but over and over again, we see that in the midst of terrible times, the good in people continues to shine. Americans all over the country came together after 9/11. For a moment in time, all races, ethnicities, and religions joined together to mourn those who were lost, to rebuild what had fallen, and to create a renewed sense of community. It wasn't the first time that happened — and it certainly wasn't the last.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

We saw it after Hurricane Katrina, after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and after the shootings at Sandy Hook. We continue to see it on a day-to-day basis. Like when thousands of people sent money to help a stranger they read about on the internet. 9/11 taught me the true value and impact of compassion. Our task, each and every day, is to live our lives at peak goodness and humanity — even when we're not in a crisis situation. If we do that, we'll never lose our sense of hope that the world truly can be a better place.

These are just a few of the lessons that I hope every child takes with them when they learn about Sept. 11, 2001.

What lessons would you share?

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A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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