Columns

The Goodness in Humanity

World Trade Center attack
World Trade Center attack
Pedestrians on Park Row flee the area of the World Trade Center as the center's south tower collapses following the terrorist attack on the New York landmark Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. | Photo: Amy Sancetta World Trade Center | World Trade Center, Wtc, 9-11, Terrorist, Violence,

Looking back at 9-11 and the humanity lost, and gained...

9-11 should serve as a reminder of what we can do when we help one another, not as a lightning rod for those that would want us to be more fearful, hateful, cynical, and isolated. Instead of focusing so narrowly on the attacks themselves, we should be remembering the heroism that followed.

Those, the FDNY, the NYPD, the many brave men and women that sacrificed to save others. This 9-11 is unique. We should truly reflect and then look forward - Optimistic of the better world we can build, and perhaps begin to let go of the rage and anger stemming from that day. We keep getting told to "never forget." But what aspect of 9-11 are we being told not to forget? Are we supposed to remain eternally enraged? Or are we supposed to remember something deeper, more valuable?

As is apparent, we will once again hear back from the voices of madness. A few years back, there was Terry Jones, the Floridian pastor who almost burned hundreds of Qurans, but ultimately bailed after pleas from our nation's top officials due to the risks it put upon our troops in volatile nations. There was Pamela Geller, the author and blogger, who once again wants bringing enraged mobs to protest a community center and prayer center near the site, Park51. There are the ominous threats from terror groups constantly trying to scare us into submission, and the Pamela Gellers and Terry Jones are playing right into their hands.

Those that want to tear us apart, keep our nation angry, tear us away from our fellow human beings come from all walks of life. They come in the form of terrorists, pundits, politicians. They can be Islamic Extremists, Christian Extremists, or atheists. Breivik and the horrors he committed in Norway in the greater Oslo area remind us that hatred can live in the hearts of even the most seemingly innocent places. You tend not to think of psycho-shootings when you think Norway, at least that's not what you used to think.

My hope would be that this realization would not be a reason to run away, buy a cabin and board up your windows (however you probably can get a good plot of land for a decent price these days), but serve as a call to let go of our cultural pride/arrogance, and paranoia of each other.

As we learn about the world, we find that atrocities are rarely left unreported in the news media, but the good deeds, the countless, selfless acts of kindness tend to be forgotten. The good deeds come from people of all walks of life, of all ages, and backgrounds. One of the most inspiring aspects of 9-11 was that moment of unity the world felt when people of all nations could say "We Are All Americans." Of course they didn't literally mean they thought they were Americans, but that the nations of the world felt our loss and our pain. We weren't different countries of different people, but one people that felt the sting of 9-11 together. From that horror came a moment of beauty, a moment where life became so real. Those little borders we draw on maps if even for just a brief period disappeared, and we saw the fragility of life unfold live on TV, and support from every corner of the world showed itself in its truest form. Sure some may have danced in the streets, but where was the coverage of the far greater number of global vigils, prayers, and condolences in all languages and from all faiths.

9-11 by the numbers, interestingly wasn't that enormous when you take into account that more people die of countless causes ever year, from obesity to car wrecks, to starvation, political turmoil, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis. The hand of God tears more of us away from this earth than we do each other, but watching ourselves bring such suffering upon ourselves is what is so deeply disturbing.

Terror's power is in the hatred it creates. It is what terrorists want, it is how they continue their craft. It is what turns us against ourselves, and gives room for even more terror. A vicious circle that only be stopped by realizing its momentum and making a choice to go the other way, despite what may seem like justified means.

We can fight terror without fighting ourselves. We can fight fanatics, without fearing our fellow beings. It is finding the goodness in each other, despite all the complexities and differences and misunderstandings that will forge a future for humanity. So let's remember 9-11, but let's never forget what kindness we are capable of. Let's do what we need to do, but never lose our sense of compassion. Instead of yelling and screaming and pointing fingers, this year, on this anniversary let's just take a moment to be.

World Trade Center attack aftermath
World Trade Center attack aftermath

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, Ed Fine is photographed after being enveloped by the cloud of dust caused by the collapse of the southern tower. | Photo: Stan Honda |
Editors sidenote:
Ed Fine, one of the iconic photograph subjects from the 9-11 attacks is pictured here. How has he been affected?
THEN:

A businessman who worked at New York-based Intercapital Planning Corp., Ed Fine became widely known from a 9/11 photograph that depicted him covered in dust, napkin held to his nose and mouth while still clutching his briefcase. Head bowed and his dark suit turned a light gray, Fine, then 58, shuffled through ankle-deep debris from the tower that had just collapsed. A clock behind him displayed the time: 10:14 a.m.

Fine was waiting for an elevator on the 78th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the building. Thinking a bomb had gone off, Fine and others made their way down the emergency stairs. Fine reached the street and began to walk away from the World Trade Center when the South Tower collapsed at 10:05 a.m., engulfing everything in the area in a cloud of smoke and debris.

There, photographer Stan Honda of Agence France-Presse took his picture, an image used by websites, newspapers and magazines around the world. Days later, a friend told Fine his photo was on the cover of Fortune magazine.

"I was focused in on: I must get uptown, I must keep surviving, I must walk," Fine told the TODAY show. "And I wasn't looking or thinking about anything other than surviving."

NOW

Fine, who is married and has two grown children and a granddaughter, lives in suburban Watchung, N.J. When msnbc.com last spoke with Fine, the banker, now 67, was still working for investment consulting firm Carpe DM (a play on "carpe diem," Latin for "seize the day") and the SEPA Capital Group.

In order to combine his business skills with his desire to help people, Fine also collaborates with Unilife Medical Solutions, an automatically-retractable safety syringe manufacturer that aims to decrease the spread of blood-borne viruses from syringe re-use in developing countries. "It was these objectives that first attracted me to this project," Fine says, "and that may be part or all of the reason I was saved."

Fine told msnbc.com that the attacks don't affect him on a daily basis anymore, because he had to 'move past this in my life or it would have been too hurtful harboring the memories.' His eight-year-old granddaughter, Selena, born only months after the attacks, brings "a lot of joy" to his life, and "the pure innocence of youth reminds me of easier times."

The battered black briefcase, the suit -- a gray Joseph A. Banks single-breasted model he bought in the late '90s for about $300 -- and the shoes he wore on 9/11 still sit in Fine's closet. He keeps his unused, return ferry ticket and his World Trade Center pass as constant reminders of how fortunate he is to be alive, Fine said. He used the briefcase for several more years until his wife insisted he get a new one.

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Updated May 6, 2017 6:01 AM EDT | More details

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