Remembering September 11 with Service

I can remember the morning of September 11, 2001 vividly. My oldest son was in kindergarten, with no greater worries than what treat I had packed in his lunch box. I was home with a toddler and a newborn when my husband called to tell me to turn on the television.

That day, everything changed.

It even touched our little corner of the world in Katy, Texas where one of our own, who had traveled to New York for work, lost his life.

Amid the fear and uncertainty, however, a greater purpose emerged. People put aside politics and flew American flags. Neighbors reached out to neighbors. Churches worked with churches. We mourned with our community and our nation. We donated goods, time, and money. We served one another.

A National Day of Service

In 2009, to honor the 2,996 individuals who lost their lives that day—including 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 New York City police officers, and 37 Port Authority police officers who ran into danger to help others and the heroic passengers aboard United Flight 93 who gave their lives to avoid more casualties—Congress named September 11 a National Day of Service and Remembrance.

That commemoration of selfless service continues.

Marking This Significant Anniversary with Service

September 11, 2021 marks the twentieth anniversary of this deadly attack on U.S. soil. As we remember and reminisce, much will be said about the victims, the terrorists, and the aftermath. Opinion leaders around the world will debate responses, outcomes, and solutions, both in the past and ongoing.

But our greatest contribution, as individuals, families, church congregations, and communities may be to turn off the TV, shut down our electronic devices, and go find someone to serve.

Let’s turn this National Day of Service and Remembrance into a true tribute to those who lost their lives that day by sacrificing our time and other means to strengthen our nation one act of service at a time.

How to Serve

The opportunities to serve, both formally and informally, are endless. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Serve at home. Service can and should begin with the people you interact with the most. Model behaviors of service by inviting family members to join you in simple acts of service around the house. Giving compliments, picking up clutter, preparing a meal, or participating in yard work are all acts of service for the family. When your children not only see you serve willingly—a task that usually defines parenthood—but participate with you in the service, they will learn the value of sacrificing, no matter how small, for the good of others.

Serve in your neighborhood. This begins by getting to know your neighbors. How can we successfully serve others if we don’t know them or their needs? Knock on doors. Share simple treats. Wave to or visit with others when you go on walks. As you strengthen bonds with those who live near you, you can serve them more successfully.   

I recently read a story on social media about such an act of service. A family was about to lose a hay harvest to a looming rainstorm. The mom in the family was scheduled for a hip replacement the following week and the dad had a broken arm. Understandably, they needed help. With a quick text or two, neighbors rallied around the family and moved the hay to shelter minutes before the rain began to fall. This act of informal service, neighbor to neighbor, made all the difference for these people.

Serve in your community. If you are looking for more formal opportunities to serve, especially on the National Day of Service and Remembrance to commemorate 9/11, consider resources like Volunteer.gov, JustServe.org, and others. Many have special projects already planned for this annual day of service.

The Benefits of Service

If you’re still not sure what you can gain from serving others, consider these benefits of service.

Service teaches humility. In a world of overindulgence and entitlement, it’s easy to fall into a “me first” mentality. Service requires sacrifices of time, effort, and sometimes resources. These sacrifices don’t need to be big or painful. But when we give a bit of ourselves willingly, we can keep a better perspective of our privileges and learn humility.

Service creates a sense of community. According to one source, “Volunteering allows you to connect to your community and make it a better place. Even helping out with the smallest tasks can make a real difference to the lives of people, animals, and organizations in need. And volunteering is a two-way street: It can benefit you and your family as much as the cause you choose to help.” If you want to change the world, start by serving in your community. Imagine the good that could come if everyone served in their respective communities.

Service makes you happy, physically and mentally. Years ago, my husband made an astute observation. At the time he was putting in long, stressful hours at work. Then, in the evenings, he volunteered to serve people in our neighborhood. He said that sometimes, before setting out, he was less than enthused, especially on long days. But he admitted that once he was done serving, he never regretted the opportunity. In every case, he came home more energized than when he left.

That’s the power of service. Volunteering increases self-confidence, combats depression, helps us stay physically healthy, and gives us a sense of fulfilment and joy. If you want to learn more about these and other benefits of serving others, check out Benefits of Community Service.

Make a Plan and Go Serve

However this special tribute looks for you, make a plan and go serve. Find something special to do to commemorate the National Day of Service and Remembrance on September 11, 2021. And if you want to experience the benefits of service more than once a year, look for opportunities to serve every day. You’ll be glad you did.

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