Mark 9/11 with Service

The Anniversary of America's Greatest Tragedy is Officially a National Day of Service

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Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of the devasting attack on the United States. The event will never fade from the memories of most Americans who were alive that day, but time passing means that about a quarter of us--those born after about 1998--have no recollection of it all. For them, it is history, not memory.

One of the ways in which the event is remembered, my personal favorite, is as a National Day of Service. Volunteering our time is a profoundly important thing to do as individuals. Doing so collectively only adds to the personal benefits by layering on community building, among the volunteers and between the volunteers and those they serve. With a nationwide effort, in a single day, we make our country better—not healed—just better than it was.

Volunteering in groups that cross political boundaries will help to heal our political divisions. We make too much of our disagreements and too little of our agreements. Spending time tomorrow working shoulder-to-shoulder with people who may view politics differently is a healthy way for us to remind ourselves that we all care about each other, our communities, the environment and our country. It can be one step in healing wounds.

Working in the community as a volunteer is also a great way to develop your personal superpowers. For most of us, this sort of thing takes us outside our comfort zone. That builds courage and character. Interacting with other people, especially people who may be different from us in some way, helps us develop empathy and understanding. By serving we flex our altruism muscle and make it stronger. Many volunteers report the same thing; perhaps you’ve experienced it too. They say, “I got more out of the experience than I gave.”

If you’re convinced but not committed, know that there is no shortage of opportunities to serve. Check out what your friends are doing individually or via social media. Check your local municipality websites, newspapers and blogs to find a project near you. The website and app JustServe.org provide a geographically searchable database of service opportunities, many scheduled specifically for tomorrow but most ongoing. However you find a project, please find one. For a few hours tomorrow, take the time to be an active part of your community.

By marking this 20th anniversary that is beginning a transition from thinking about 9/11 as something we experienced together to a tragic date in history, there may be no better way to connect ourselves to it than to earn a few new blisters by volunteering, especially with young people who lack any memory of it themselves. Let’s come together on this day in service to each other, our country and the world.

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