The ashen brotherhood: A lesson too easily forgotten

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- The second week of September has become a time of reflection and remembrance for the people who were lost in the most horrific terrorist attack to ever take place on American soil.

It has also become a week that television airwaves are filled with programs dedicated to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the aftermath. These shows cover every angle imaginable, be it a strict factual accounting of the day's events or a collection of conspiracy theories. Despite the nature of the program, eight years later, I'm still glued to the TV screen. It still has that strong of an impact on me.

Certain images from that day have become ingrained into our history ... the planes flying into the twin towers; the fearless firefighters climbing the stairs to an unknown fate only to never be seen again; stunned New Yorkers watching on in disbelief, not sure what to make of what they just witnessed; Pentagon workers jumping into action; that crater in the field in Pennsylvania.

Of all those images though, the one that strikes me the hardest every time I see it is that of those same stunned New Yorkers after the towers began collapsing. Amidst the chaos and the panic of the masses of ash-covered people running for their lives, an amazing thing happened. People paused in their escape to help those around them. You can see time and time again people stopping to help someone who tripped or someone who became frozen with fear. These people were unbiased and unprejudiced in their concern for their fellow New Yorkers. If they saw someone who needed help, they didn't think, they reacted.

That sense of solidarity spread outward from the streets of New York and the grounds of the Pentagon until it enveloped the majority of America's citizens. For a brief little while, our nation enjoyed a new-found concept of what I like to call a golden humanity.

I've always been a proponent of the golden rule, you know ... do unto others as you would have them do unto you. There are many versions of the rule throughout the world, but the idea is the same: treat others how you would want to be treated in the same situation.

For that brief period of time that our nation stood together after the attacks, I hoped that we would be able to extend the bravery and the compassion we saw that day and turn that ash into a permanent gold. Unfortunately, as the weeks faded, so did that golden glow of compassion.

While our nation, and the world for that matter, may have benefitted from the attacks in the realms of preparedness and response, we may have lost perhaps the most important lesson we could've learned that day: the lesson of the ashen brotherhood.

Why does it take such a tragic event to bring humanity together? Even then, why does it fade so fast? And how is it that one of the oldest "rules" in our civilization is also one of the most widely ignored, especially when you consider how easy it is to follow that rule?

You may disagree; you may think it's a very tough rule to follow. But if you break down the logic of the rule, it becomes very simple. Here's all you have to do. Whenever you find yourself in a situation that requires you to interact with another person, remember that they are a human being just like you, with feelings just like you, with a life that can be detrimentally impacted if you do the wrong thing.

We shouldn't have to wait for another event like Sept. 11 to display the same type of unbiased and unprejudiced compassion that rose from the ashes on that terrible Tuesday; we should do it every day.