Ten years ago Sunday, I lost my mother, Norma Lang Steuerle, when American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the Pentagon.
Much has changed in the world and in my life over the past decade. I got married and have two children. I have a job I love. Despite the events of 10 years ago, I feel very lucky. But I also feel conflicted.
Every year on Sept. 11, and especially in the lead-up to this 10th anniversary, I am invited to events aimed at reflection and remembrance of that horrible day. I am grateful to the many people who make these thoughtful and well-organized events happen. Through them, I have felt the nation’s care and concern for me and for my family.
But I can’t help but wonder if this is really the best way, now, to remember my mother and the thousands of others who died on Sept. 11, 2001. Yes, some family members and first responders are still living with illness, health problems and other horrors of Sept. 11, and for some, such events might help to heal their emotional wounds and soothe their physical pain.
Here’s the other side, though, for me anyway: Sometimes I feel I am asked to attend my mother’s funeral again and again, year after year.
I wonder what my mom, a clinical psychologist, would think of these memorials. Would she tell me to look back less and look ahead more? Would she remind me that the final stage of grief is acceptance and renewal?
Or would she recommend that, next year on Sept. 11, we try to erect a different kind of memorial to those we lost, by participating in an event aimed at making the world more compassionate, safer and more equitable?
What if we all spent the 11th anniversary of the attacks reflecting on what we admired most about our lost loved ones and trying to emulate those ideals?
Or what if we spent time building not another structure in memorial but, instead, building our relationships with others? Or raising money for our favorite charity?
When I reflect on my mother’s ideals, I think of her compassion. She spent her life counseling and listening to others. She became a friend, and she helped her clients work toward honorable solutions for their lives. She believed that people and institutions could change, but also that change takes incredibly hard work and requires getting everyone on board.
I believe that is true for all of us — as citizens of our country and our world. If we want the world to be more compassionate, safer and more equitable, we have to work to make that happen. We all have to be on board. We should reflect on the characteristics of our loved ones that we want to keep alive, and then we must behave that way.
So next year on Sept. 11, please don’t invite me only to remembrance ceremonies. Instead, let’s make our ceremonies ones that include reflection and action.
Let us as a country move into the final stage of grief, toward acceptance and renewal. Reflect on what you want the world to be in 10 years and then look forward and act on those reflections. Transform those reflections into reality.