"It's a memory of tragedy and shock, of loss and mourning... It's also a memory of bravery and self-sacrifice, and the love that lays down its life for a frie nd - even a friend whose name it never knew." —former President George W. Bush

20 years. People say it every year, “I can still remember exactly what I was doing on that morning.”

I’m no different. I can still smell the apple cinnamon oatmeal I never took a bite of as I stood in horror watching the smoke, seeing the second plane hit and the stabbing ache in my chest the moment the towers fell. The ache reappears with the memories, pictures, and clips I come across but so do the events of the days following. I close my eyes and I see the crowds of people feeding first responders, volunteers coming from around the Nation to lend a hand, and the American flags being flown everywhere in sight. I hear the stories of people who were strangers but are now family bonded by trauma, tragedy and grief.

Today if you look for things connected to 9/11 you will find tales of courage, resilience, and strength against unimaginable odds. You see stories of people who, on any other day, would have been in a tower, on one of those flights, or at the Pentagon but stopping for gas, the snooze button, or having to change their shirt made them late to their destination. September 11, 2001 is still an open wound that freely bleeds; it’s a day that even those who didn’t experience it still know all too well.

But the survivors and those connected to those lost will tell you that beyond all that pain is gratitude, joy, peace and hope. From pain and tragedy can come a brighter, fuller existence and those we’ve lost deserve to be honored by us reaching out and living the life they no longer can.

Smiles, laughter, carrying groceries, opening doors… anything that expresses even the smallest amount of respect, compassion and love can bridge the gaps that are still so prevalent in the world today. What hurts is that it’s these painful tragedies that bring back the reminders to care for one another. So today we say, “Thank you to each life lost, may we always be grateful and remember to love first and foremost,”

Community is the biggest foundation we built when this day happened and it can feel like the weakest one at the same time. Life is so full, so busy and often so painful that it can seem easier to walk it all alone than reach out in vulnerability and hold on to the foundation of Community. 9/11 pushed people out of that fear of vulnerability because the pain was scarier than reaching out. It doesn’t have to be like that though, we don’t have to wait for the pain of things to overwhelm before we find community. Things to take away from the deep loss of this day is that we need to be kinder to each other, to ourselves and to fight harder to stay connected in the good times so that it’s not so hard to reach out when things get rough.

1 Day. 4 planes. 19 hijackers. 2,997 lives lost. 20 years ago. Uncountable lives changed.

Life matters. Pain is powerful but love trumps all pain and community makes the difference.

To those lost we are grateful for everything you bring to us, even now and we will always honor the life you sacrificed. To those living after loss, we love you and we are your community. Reach out, we aren’t far away.

Today I ask that you love a little extra and make the community we are all a part of stronger for those who need it most.

Sarah Deats

Sarah Deats is a Behavioral Health Technician at RI International and the Hope Inc. Stories Inspiration Engineer.