“What did we do when September 11 happened?”

It was so ironic that my daughter, Tenley, now 20 years old, asked me that recently. Only a few weeks prior, I had spoken about Sepember 11, 2001, to a local reporter who had asked parents to discuss how to share difficult information with their children in the aftermath of the Orlando Pulse shooting.

Having been a five-year-old kindergartner on September 11, 2001, Tenley’s specific memories of that day are vague.

However, she loves New York City; we have gone roughly every two years starting when she was 18 months old. We visited the site of the World Trade Center in 2002 when she was six. We visited the 9/11 Memorial after her high school graduation.

Although my age-appropriate explanation to my five-year-old was basic and brief, as she grows into adulthood, I will encourage her to do what the 9/11 Memorial encourages: remember, reflect, and serve as we look back fifteen years later on what transpired in New York City; Washington, DC; Shanksville, PA; the entire nation; and the world that day.

I have chosen quotes and examples from among current and former members of our Weaving Influence family to reinforce each one.


It is imperative to remember the events of that day, and the unique features of each victim that made them valued friends, coworkers, family members, and citizens. For those who are too young to remember, we can teach them.

In his post Leaders: What is Your Expression?, Paul Larsen reminds us:

Your leadership footprint isn’t made of sand.

Although thousands lost their lives that day, each one leaves behind a permanent legacy. It will not shift or blow away as sand does. These legacies are cemented into our national consciousness; their names are engraved on the solid marble of the memorial.

No day shall erase you from the memory of time. – Virgil


An event of such enormity challenges us to focus our reflections. The passage of time prismatically modifies the rawest of our emotions; it equips us with enough perspective (hopefully) to move back into our routine days while continuing to grieve and remember; but our reflections on 9/11 should always redirect us back unity rather than division.

Although Karin Hurt was referring to the types of surprises that bring unexpected joy rather than an abrupt descent into sorrow, in Why to be Surprised: The Power of Not Knowing, she touches on a truth of September 11:

The biggest life and leadership lessons come when you’re surprised.

Would we all prefer to have avoided the difficult life lessons we learned as individuals and a nation that day and in its aftermath? Absolutely. Can our reflections on how we came together spur us on to be better people? They can and they should.


The last of the three recommendations from the 9/11 Memorial is to serve. Through serving on September 11 (and year-round), the tragedy of the day can be channeled in a positive way. Service is a way we can collectively honor September 11 and put hands and feet to our remembrances and reflections.

Perhaps you have been thinking of an ambitious service project and can’t quite get your head around how to begin. In Launching Your Big Idea, Linda Freeman reminds us that big ideas are not unattainable. She encourages three steps:

  1. Start alone. Don’t wait for others to completely understand or agree before you take the first action. Get started.
  2. Fight fear. You might not have everything you need when you start working on your Big Idea. You might feel fear and/or anxiety about moving forward. Remember that fear is just a feeling and feelings aren’t reality.
  3. Push through. Your Big Idea can never come to life by simply thinking about it or talking about it. You have to work at it. Push yourself to keep going.

You may prefer to take smaller steps of service. That’s fine! Cheryl Bachelder, in Imagine the Impact of Your Work, elegantly explains how even the smallest of actions can have ripple effects (and bring joy to the volunteer), depending on how the volunteer perceives their own work.

Honor by Serving

The events of September 11, 2001, had the potential to destroy us as a country. But resilience and love prevailed. As Beau Sides writes in The Gingko Tree, “to say the ginkgo is a hearty tree would be an understatement.  Extreme examples of the ginkgo’s tenacity may be seen in Hiroshima, Japan, where six trees growing between 1–2 km from the 1945 atom bomb explosion were among the few living things in the area to survive the blast. ”

The ginkgos, though charred, survived and were soon healthy again. The trees are alive to this day.

Through our continued service on September 11, 2016, and for all the September 11’s to come, we can keep the legacy of the victims of September 11 alive.

My friend Gabrielle lost her uncle and godfather on September 11, 2001. She writes: “I belong to a club that nobody wanted to join — a group of 9/11 family members and survivors who cope with grief in our own ways. For me, the experience was motivation to give more of my time to causes important to me including working with veterans, animals and people with disabilities. My therapy dog and I spend a few days every week visiting hospital patients and our Alzheimer’s group.”

The Corporation for National and Community Service provides volunteer ideas here.

This September 11, how will you remember, reflect, honor, and serve?


Image credit: MonicaVolpin