World Trade Centre - New York City - Foraggio Photographic

9/11: The worst and best of humanity

Sometimes we have to reach rock bottom to improve. It’s a bit like exercise. When you lift weights, exhaust your system, everything recovers stronger than it was before, expectant of the next workout. Your mind is the same. But what about your soul? Can it get stronger after it’s been torn apart? I like to think it can.

Today is 11 September, 9/11 if you’re an American. On this day in 2001, there are few people on this planet who don’t know what happened in the United States. The world changed on that day, thousands needlessly died, and while many will say it changed things for the worse, there are some things that made us, as humans, better. We got stronger after reaching rock bottom.

In times of disaster, human beings can be remarkable. Those of us without hatred in our souls will gladly drop everything to help our fellow species in need. We’ll search for the missing, donate money to help people we never have, nor never will meet. We offer safe haven, we comfort each other, help the injured and sick to heal. It’s fair to say the very worst the world can throw at us often brings out the best in us.

 

It’s fair to say the very worst the world can throw at us often brings out the best in us.

 

I believe the good people on Earth outnumber the bad, and by a very large majority. The problem is, mass media rarely reminds us of that, because the bad are so much more dramatic. On this day, we are all forced to look back and reflect, bombarded with sombre memorials, political speeches about how we will never let such horror happen again, even though we have waged wars and forced horror on others as retribution for what happened that day. We honour the dead, reinforce the evil image of the perpetrators and their followers, but do we ever reflect on the good stories of that day, the ones that lift the spirits and remind that, collectively, a good community could do a lot to change, dare I say save the world?

Today, on this blog, we do.

Here’s a story about 9/11 you may not have heard. As airspace shut down across the United States as the nature of the attacks became clearer, hundreds of flights were told they had to land as soon as possible. One of those flights was Delta Flight 15, bound for Atlanta from Frankfurt, Germany. To limit the risk of hysteria, flight crew told passengers they had to land away from their scheduled final stop because of a small issue with some instrumentation. Of course upon landing in Gander, Newfoundland, passengers soon realised something more serious was happening when they saw close to 50 other planes idling at the small airport’s location, all full of people wondering what was going on.

Incredibly, the number of re-routed passengers in Gander that day almost outnumbered the regular population of the small town. As news of the terror attacks filtered through, everyone became more concerned and frightened. But what happened thereafter might restore your faith in humanity.

After being forced to spend the night on the plane for security reasons, the weary passengers were eventually let off. They were processed by the Red Cross and given accommodation in various locations nearby, those from Delta 15 went to Lewisporte. In the two days that followed, they were given showers, beds, phone banks, food, tours of the surrounding area, saw beautiful places they probably never would have thought of seeing, and generally afforded some of the most incredible hospitality by the local community they could have ever dreamed of. Upon returning to the airpot to rejoin their flight to Atlanta, the horror of the news in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon had been replaced by smiles, great stories of adventure, meaningful new friendships and high spirits.

As a token of gratitude for his experience, one business class passenger decided to ask his fellow travellers if they would be willing to donate a little cash back to the folks of Lewisporte. He wanted to set up a trust fund under the name of “DELTA 15” to provide a scholarship for high school students in the town, ultimately assisting them to get to college and become fulfilled kids with a higher education and a positive influence on the world. The donations came back within minutes to the tune of $14,000. The anonymous instigator of this idea matched the amount from his own pocket, and thus the fund was inaugurated.

In 2002, almost a year after the 9/11 attacks, a passenger returned to Lewisporte for a graduation ceremony as a representative of the flight. That day, she handed out 14 scholarships, all as a direct result of the funding. A year later, that number became 15, and by 2004, almost $1 million was in the fund. In 2014, a Reddit post reported the fund was still going strong, well in excess of $1.5 million now, and 134 scholarships had been awarded over the years.

While we should never forget the terrible happenings of this day, it’s also a time to remember the good it brought out in many of us. Tragic events can inspire positive change which every media organisation should consider making more of, not just the vengeful, politically motivated and often ill-considered attacks in return. There is more to be gained from reporting the good in all of us than there is the bad, and those stories are what I seek out on this day every year. I hope, in some way, I have inspired you to do the same.

We’re all better than we maybe think we are. We just need to be reminded of it a little more often.

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