Field of American flags

9/11, a Tradition, and a Question

In 2012 I started a new personal tradition for the National Day of Remembrance, which I’ll get to in a minute, after I add a personal take on this 20-year anniversary of 9/11.

A couple of months ago, Jim and I visited Naperville, Illinois. It was our home for more than twenty years, and where we were living twenty years ago today. Naperville has a 9/11 memorial adjacent to the river, downtown. On our recent visit, Jim and I took a walk and visited the memorial. As we approached, I noticed that the plaque described the reason for the memorial, to honor the approximately 3,000 people who died on 9/11. Because I don’t have too many thoughts that don’t connect to the pandemic in some way, what first came to my mind was how small a number that was, compared to the losses over the past year and a half.

I remember in 2001 when I heard that approximately 3,000 people died as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93, I thought that was a massive number. These days, more than a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic and after the loss of my dad to it and my mom and sister’s illnesses (not to mention the losses my friends have endured), the number 3,000 is small when you compare it to 658,000 deaths from coronavirus. That current death count is like September 11 happened 219 times, by the way. TWO HUNDRED AND NINETEEN TIMES.

But then, each and every unnecessary loss of life is a tragedy, right? Each SINGULAR death was a person who meant a whole lot to many people. That’s a lot of death. All 3,000 of those lost on 9/11 (plus those who passed away eventually as a result of health problems, whether caused by being a First Responder digging through the wreckage or for other related reasons) were unnecessary. Hundreds of thousands of the people we’ve lost because of COVID-19 were unnecessary deaths.

What we have in common is that those of us who have been left behind are hurting and will be hurting for a long time. And we have anger. There is 20-year old anger towards the people responsible for the attacks, and there is fresh anger towards the people who still resist getting vaccinated to stop the virus from mutating and killing more people, and to protect children, and to open up hospital beds for people who have other health problems that truly need attention, and to give our healthcare professionals some freaking rest.

What is very different is the national response. I remember very vividly how we all came together in September 2001. We were all one America, super patriotic and truly united. We felt like together, we could handle anything. There was so much pride. There was so much love for community. There were people willing to do things for others, anything, little or big, however they could help.

In 2021 it is just the opposite. Science has been politicized. Science! Like, the thing that is based on things that are proven: facts! There are so many people who are thinking only of themselves rather than protecting their loved ones and the people in their community. If it doesn’t affect them personally, why should they care? It must be made up, right? This is all a hoax! All of those nearly 700,000 people who died had other health problems, right? STOP. It’s madness.

My question for you: what do you think it’s going to take for us to get on the same page? I have my own theories but admittedly, they’re dark. (It’s how I roll since last December.) I much prefer the United States over the Divided States. I wish everyone would realize that we’re all playing on the same red, white, and blue team. It makes me sad every single day.

So this, the 20th anniversary of 9/11, hits differently for me than it ever has before. And maybe for you, too. But what will never change is that we need to remember the victims, and that’s where my tradition comes in. My tradition is about those singular people who make up the big number. They were all someONE to other people. They were loved.

I visited the National September 11 Memorial when I was in Manhattan in 2012, and was extremely moved by the experience (massive understatement). It occurred to me that, rather than passively watch the televised tributes and read what the rest of the internet had to say about 9/11, each year I would involve myself by actively remembering and learning about a couple of the victims of that terrible day.

Carol Millicent Rabalais was a native of Jamaica. She had four sisters. Carol had been a teenage single mom of three children in Brooklyn, and was 38 when she died in the South Tower. She was 38 years old.

A native of the Bronx, Luke G. Nee worked in municipal bonds operations for Cantor Fitzgerald, in the North Tower. He loved going to see the Yankees play, and had a ticket plan for Friday night games. He loved to read on the train ride to work. He made a final phone call to his wife and son before he died. He was 44 years old.

Keith J. Fairben was a paramedic. He and his partner Mario Santoro were on the scene at the World Trade Center just minutes after the first plane hit. They immediately started running in and out of the building, taking care of the injured. He was known for his practical jokes, and always being on the run: he loved adrenaline. He was only 24 when he died.

Shelley A. Marshall was a budget analyst in the comptroller’s office of the Defense Intelligence Agency, in the Pentagon. She and her husband Donn used to hold a black tie dinner for friends, every Halloween at a remote bed-and-breakfast. Shelley and Donn had two children, a three-year-old son and a twenty-month-old daughter. Shelley loved tea and often had tea parties. After her death in the attacks, Donn established a charitable foundation in her name with her retirement savings. The Shelley A. Marshall Foundation holds intergenerational tea parties with teens and seniors, holds art workshops in the summer for promising high school art students, holds creative writing contests for students at George Mason University, Shelley’s alma mater, and does children’s story hours at public libraries in Shelley’s hometown of Vienna, Virginia.

If you would like to do some learning and remembering today, here’s how. All you have to do is go to the September 11 Memorial website’s Memorial Guide and scroll down a little bit. On the bottom left of the screen you can click on North Pool or South Pool for a name listing. After that, pick a couple out and Google them. That’s it. It’s such a small task but so important, and the families appreciate any interest in their lost loved ones. THIS is something anyone can do.

Hug your loved ones today. Always Remember, Never Forget.


  • Momo

    Oof. This got me hard. You know I feel all of this. I share your frustration, anger and heartache. And, as always, I so appreciate your remembrance.

  • Sujey Morfin

    Hi I recently found your blog because I was looking up a victim named Carol Millicent and she shares a birthday with me we are exactly 20 years apart. I recently visited the memorial this weekend and I’ve been very intriguing to her life and I found your website with this information and her listed as your first person thank you so much for sharing your experience because I too felt anger when I was at the memorial and I told my husband that that was the first feeling I felt was anger towards the people who attacked our country I am so glad to find another like-minded person and also I felt the same connection with the pandemic and thinking that people who are not being vaccinated or terrorizing our country in a sense.