We have grown weary of recounting where we were on September 11, 2001. There may come a day when new generations ask us to remember, and we most assuredly will for the memories are too strong to fade. But the jury is still out on whether the lessons will endure.
There is one image-turned-lesson that I have pledged never to let fade: Firefighters racing up the stairwells of the World Trade Center as the buildings crumbled. They were simply doing what they were trained to do, which was to be heroic. I want to live like that, too—racing toward danger and not away from it—so it stands to reason that I also want to die that way. That is neither thrill-seeking nor pushing limits nor adrenaline addiction; instead, it is a compelling desire to make the world better for those in great need, which I remain convinced requires leaving safety and venturing toward danger.
Years ago, I read a couplet that captures this goal and have shared it often:
Some want to live within sound of church and steeple bell.
I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.
Looking back, the times in life when I felt most alive were those spent at the Hellside Rescue Shop. In that shop, there must be a portrait of a New York City firefighter racing up those steps. The firefighter is young and brave and determined and has so much to live for, which is exactly what you find in that image—someone living for so much. Today, I spend extra time looking at that inspiring image.
I invite others to consider such a life, one that acknowledges fear but meets it head on. Living for others is preferable to living for self-indulgence, self-preservation, and self-promotion, and the lines to get in are way shorter.