COLUMN: Remembering 9/11 in a COVID-19 world

By Christie Coombs

19 years …

Sometimes it feels like a lifetime, and other times it feels like just yesterday that terrorists breeched our safety and security and took the lives of nearly 3,000 innocent souls on a beautiful September Tuesday.

One of those lives was my husband of 17 years, father of our three children, who were 7, 11, and 13 at the time. Like Jeff, those aboard the three planes were sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, siblings, spouses, partners — just going about their day, going to work, traveling for work or pleasure. Every one of them was part of a family, loved, and now missed, for far too long.

Each anniversary of that horrible day feeds the grief that is always there. Anyone who has lost someone dear to them knows this.

When the loss is through a very public tragedy like September 11, 2001, the community remembers with us and offers comfort. Ordinarily there are public services: small ones led by local organizations or towns; a larger one held in Boston with the Governor, Mayor and other dignitaries attended by 9/11 family members and friends; and the commemoration ceremony in New York at the site of the World Trade Center and Memorial Park. 

For many family members these ceremonies provide an opportunity to gather and remember together. They give them something to do on an emotive and difficult day.

Others, like me, choose to participate in service, finding purpose in the day that changed us all, and paying it forward for the compassion and kindness bestowed on us the weeks and months following the unthinkable murder of our loved ones. It was those acts of kindness that helped us cope through the very dark times in our lives and in our country. Those acts of kindness led to federal legislation recognizing the anniversary of 9/11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. It was part of the 2009 Serve America Act, co-authored by Senator Ted Kennedy who was a beacon of hope for Massachusetts 9/11 families.

But this year is different. Covid-19 is dictating that we find a new way to remember, without the community physically around us, without the organized service projects, without the school presentations educating students about a day that happened before they were born — a day that changed their parents’ and teachers’ America forever.

The Massachusetts Commemoration, usually held at the Memorial in the Public Garden with Mayor Marty Walsh and at the State House with Governor Baker, will be online (find it at beginning at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 11). It feels like it will be easier for people to forget. Perhaps seeing the flags at half staff will cause some to ask why and jog their memories. 

To remember 9/11 we encourage you to join what has become the largest day of service in the country. Do a random act of kindness for a friend or stranger. Donate if you can to a cause that’s important to you. Show some consideration for someone you ordinarily would ignore. Look for opportunities in your community to do socially-distant service, like cleaning up your neighborhood (Stay tuned later this month for Abington clean-up day information and comfort item collection for Veterans by Project 351). Google the names of those who died that day, and the first responders and contractors who have since died as a result of their work at the site known as Ground Zero. Say their names out loud. This ensures they won’t be forgotten. Do your random act of kindness in their memory.

Parents, talk to your children about the way America came together as a true United States after 9/11. Tell them how we all felt like family, calming each others’ fears, waving our flags on the street corners, locking arms while singing “God Bless America” at large gatherings and sporting events, and being there for those who needed it.

Convey to them how senators and congressmen actually worked together, crossing the partisan lines to do what they needed to do for the safety and security of our country.

Paint that picture for your children, and give them hope that maybe one day we can find that unity and resilience again, but without the unprecedented, horrific tragedy that brought us there 19 years ago. 

Keep the promise we made when America was temporarily brought to her knees on September 11, 2001 — Never Forget.

Christie Coombs is an Abington resident, and President of the Jeff Coombs Fund. Since 2001, it has raised more than $1 million to provide assistance to area children, youths, and families, and to help fund enrichment programs within Abington schools.

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