As we approach the tenth anniversary of the September 11 tragedy, we cannot help but mourn the loss of so many lives brimming with hope and flickering with the bright light of possibility. We reflect on where we were that terrible day, what we saw, and how we felt.

As we think back, often what stands out most in our minds are the unimaginable acts of heroism we witnessed—the first responders caught in a skyscraper’s stairwell on their way to saving survivors as the building collapsed around them, the airline passengers who barged through the cockpit door to wrestle the plane’s controls from a terrorist on a suicide mission, the sergeant who repeatedly entered the burning Pentagon to rescue those trapped inside, and the countless rescue workers risking their own health in the days, weeks, and months that followed in order to sift through a pile of rubble in the vain hope of finding a survivor.

We remember these everyday heroes because they symbolize the brightly burning flame of the human spirit. They were ordinary people who in extraordinary circumstances summoned extraordinary powers and volunteered themselves for the noble purpose of coming to the aid of others. They, like the friends, families, neighbors, and strangers who came together in towns all over the country and all over the world in the aftermath of the tragedy epitomize our collective capacity for resilience and understanding—and re-ignite our hope for a better future.

In coming together to share our grief we showed how very much we all have in common, that despite differences in race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomics, politics and otherwise, we all, at heart, value the same things: freedom from oppression, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and an abiding respect for one another. In the wake of the tragedy of September 11, we discovered something important about ourselves: our inexhaustible capacity for kindness. We learned that in our willingness to help others—to ease their worries, soothe their souls, give them a chance for a better future—we stumbled upon the very thing that makes us human.

In this complicated and divided world we inhabit, with all of its deep-rooted and widespread problems, I can think of no other way to tackle the daunting challenges that stand before us than to remember the solidarity we felt following the tragedy of 9/11 and to carry that spirit into the work that lies ahead. For more than a century, hundreds of thousands of women volunteers, as members of The Junior League, have come together and banded with others to help solve societal issues.

On this national day of both mourning and of volunteer service think about this: the world’s problems don’t take a holiday and neither should we. Our work, all of us together, must move our world forward.

Susan E. Danish
Executive Director
The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc.