One date in recent history permanently seared its mark onto America’s conscience: September 11, 2001. This defining moment exposed the best and the worst things about us. It forced us to look in the mirror as a nation and ask ourselves what really matters.
The terrorists who slammed airplanes into the World Trade Center caught us completely off guard. In the middle of a business-as-usual morning, they showed us how naive we were about the magnitude of their hate and the extent to which we could be humbled by their violence.
Many successful people found themselves trapped in the clutches of this ghastly event. At 9:03 that Tuesday morning, their SAT scores and the cars they drove to work meant nothing. There was very little that their pedigrees and résumés could do for them. The famous as well as the obscure became equals in the statistics. In the Twin Towers, “Who’s Who” died side by side with “Who’s he?”
But in the midst of this crisis, there were magnificent people who responded to the urgency of the moment and gave everything they had for the sake of others. As the successful rushed down the stairs of the World Trade Center, the truly great ran up. As the well-heeled and comfortable ran for their lives, the truly great slipped inside the nightmare to see what they could do to help those who were left behind.
And after the smoke cleared, thousands of truly great people stepped out from their quiet positions within the ranks of successful Americans and opened their hearts and their wallets to those whose lives had been shattered by this cataclysmic event.
Isn’t it ironic that as a nation we worship those who are successful, but when tragedy strikes, our survival depends upon those who are great? A cry for help is always answered first by people who live for something more valuable than their own fame or fortune. They respond even though there isn’t a thing in it for them.
That’s why, when it’s time to bury our dead, we mourn the loss of those who were successful, but we celebrate the memory of those who were truly great—the firefighters, the EMTs, the rescue workers, and the countless civilians who sacrificed everything they had for people they’d never met.
Truly great people seldom simply happen; they are carefully groomed for the moment long before they are forced to face it. Long before they get to these challenges, so many of them have lived within the proving grounds of a family that inspired them to true greatness.