Tag Archives: Sept. 11

The Unsung Heroes

(Image by Ashley Ma.)

(Image by Ashley Ma.)

Is there such a thing as a truly unselfish act?

I don’t know. I also don’t care.

I’ll let the psych community and people smarter than me debate the merits of selfish and unselfish behavior in society.

If a human being performs an unselfish act that helps another person, and the helper did so out of self-interest in order to feel good or be perceived as unselfish, does that somehow lessen the good thing that happened as a result of their action?

I stumbled on this video a couple days ago. Thai Life Insurance made it about nine months ago (I’m a little late to the party.) I don’t mean to intentionally advertise for this insurance firm, but if you’re interested in getting more life insurance from Bangkok, knock yourself out, I guess.

It’s a touching video. I liked it. I watched it three times.

Here it is:

I work in marketing, and I feel this accomplishes what the best ads in the world have always accomplished: It made you feel something.

But more importantly, it got me thinking again about what we’re actually living for.

What do I really want?

People chase money and career success and social connection and travel and new experiences and nice cars and big houses and many other things.

That’s what many spend their lives pursuing. Trying to acquire or achieve as many things on their “I Want This” List as possible.

People do this because they want to feel good. They want to be happy.

Out of the Clear Blue Sky

That’s the name of a documentary I watched last night.

On Sept. 11, 2001, a jet exploded when bad men flew it into the upper floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. A large financial firm that oversaw the majority of U.S. bond trading at the time, Cantor Fitzgerald, had offices on the top five floors of that building.

Nearly 700 of the company’s employees—virtually everyone who had made it into the office that morning—died from the fire, or jumping out a window, or from the tower’s eventual collapse.

The company’s CEO—Howard Lutnick—wasn’t in the office at the time of the crash because he had taken his son to his first day of kindergarten.

Lutnick had EVERYTHING. The top job at a major financial firm. He was one of the most respected and feared men on Wall Street. He had a gorgeous wife and children. And more money then you could ever want.

It would seem he achieved the very best of all these things we’re programmed to chase in our lives. The things on our “I Want This” List.

But on Sept. 11, 2001, he suddenly became responsible for trying to save a company who had just lost 80-90 percent of its workforce. He lost his brother. Dozens of friends. Hundreds of people he knew.

Some 700 families were turning to him for help.

And in that moment, his gorgeous family, and all his career achievements, and his massive bank account amounted to very little in the context of his ability to feel happy.

Howard Lutnick had everything we all want. And in an instant became the very last person any of us would want to be.

I am not Howard Lutnick. But on paper, I had what I had always been chasing. A gorgeous family. A nice home. A good job. Friends. Family.

But then adulthood delivered hardships. The kind none of us are immune from and rarely see coming.

Everything fell apart.

And then I didn’t have a family anymore.

In the aftermath of the divorce, I could not have felt worse. I had never respected feelings. Because they’re fleeting and fickle and people make a lot of bad decisions based on their feelings.

But everything changed inside me when I felt just how low and miserable and tortured a person can feel in the midst of trauma.

It wasn’t until that moment that I could understand how someone could ever take their own life. We’re always like: How!? Why!? And if you’ve never felt THAT miserable you can’t understand how or why. For some people, shutting off that pain sounds like a drink of water after days in the desert.

The World Needs Unsung Heroes

Giving just to give. Helping just to help. Loving just to love.

Without wanting or expecting or demanding anything in return, including acknowledgment or admiration.

That’s the work of an unsung hero.

No one knows but you.

The Thai Life ad says it all and it bears repeating:

“What does he get in return for doing this every day? He gets nothing. He won’t be richer. Won’t appear on TV. Still anonymous. And not a bit more famous.

“What he does receive are emotions. He witnesses happiness. Reaches a deeper understanding. Feels the love. Receives what money can’t buy. A world made more beautiful.

“And in your life? What is it that you desire most?

“Believe in Good.”

Even if it’s selfish. Simply because you want to feel better, too. Do it anyway. Because that’s why we’re here. To do heroic work. Even if it’s quiet and understated and no one ever knows about it.

The pursuit of happiness begins with giving more than we take.

And believing in good.

And then doing some.

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The Unknown Soldiers

A soldier from the U.S. Army's Old Guard honor guard walks at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington

(Image courtesy of the Jawa Report.)

And the soldier marched.

Twenty one steps. Always. At the end of the mat, he turns toward the tomb and counts: One, two, three…

After 21 seconds, he turns and walks the mat again. Twenty one more steps. Always 21.

He neither smiles nor frowns. He marches with purpose.

He’s the Sentinel.

It is his solemn duty to guard the tomb. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Tombs that contain remains of unidentified U.S. soldiers from World Wars I and II, and the Korean War. The Arlington, Va.-based monument is intended to honor all unidentified men and women who died serving their country.

Had they met in life, the soldiers guarding this tomb may not have even liked or respected the fallen soldiers they now honor with such reverence.

Doesn’t matter. There are no judgments. No questions like, “why are we doing this?” or “why do these soldiers matter more than others?”

Those questions aren’t relevant. Not to the Sentinel.

And so they walk. Twenty one steps. Twenty one steps, exactly. And then they face the tomb for 21 seconds, not 20 or 22.

Purpose. Precision.

The scene is somber. Respectful. Ceremonial. I’ve seen it twice, deeply moved both times.

The discipline is unlike anything I’ve seen.

The Tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, every day, no matter what, and has been, every second since July 1, 1937.

For 78 years, soldiers apply to be part of the elite team. A group who sacrifices so much so they can walk the mat. Guard the tomb. Preserve honor and tradition. I use the word “he” to describe the soldier because the vast majority of Tomb Guards have been male, but at least three have been female.

Why do they do this?

Near as I can tell, they do it because they said they would. They do it because they can.

They walk the mat during severe storms.

They walk the mat with hundreds of onlookers.

They walk the mat in the dark of night with none.

What’s Our Problem, Then?

It’s worth asking.

If these men and women can perform this ritual. One of such discipline and precision and honor for people they don’t even know. Why can’t we exhibit an appropriate amount of discipline and respect for those we love and care for most?

What separates those soldiers from you and me?

They will sacrifice their entire way of life to be part of a chosen few. The Tomb Guard.

But you won’t take a deep breath and shut up for five minutes to REALLY pay attention to and care about something your partner needs from you?

Working out is too hard? Being kind is too hard? Doing the best job you can on this project or that chore is too hard?

For the people you love?

For the people who pay you?

For the people who count on you?

What’s our problem?

Sept. 11, 2001, 9:37 a.m. EST

And the soldier marched.

Perhaps with many tourists present. Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. is a popular tourist attraction among visitors to Washington D.C.

Sept. 11, 2001 was a gorgeous Tuesday morning. Clear skies throughout most of the continental United States.

I bet there were people there.

At 9:37 a.m., a jet airliner brushed the treetops perched atop the hills of Arlington National Cemetery. It must have scared everyone. Seconds later, that jet slammed into the Pentagon building. The symbol of American military might and the headquarters for the nation’s Department of Defense. 184 innocent people died in a fiery explosion.

It wasn’t until my last visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns and realizing where the Pentagon was in relation for this to dawn on me. The jet screamed overhead without warning. And then exploded into the side of the Pentagon.

There, a fire raged for hours. Onlookers must have screamed. The nation and many parts of the world were horrified.

What might happen next?

But, amidst the chaos, the solider marched. Exactly 21 steps. Then, again.

Shame is a bad thing. We shouldn’t be shaming people.

But if it’s an effective motivator to change for the better, maybe it’s worth it.

I couldn’t love and respect my wife even when it was hard?

I can’t give my beautiful son my undivided attention any time he wants it?

I can’t work out every single day?

I can’t give more of my time and money to people who need it?

What’s my problem?

No matter what’s happening around them, the Sentinels walk.

Twenty one steps. Always 21. No mistakes.

For a mission many of us can’t fully appreciate or understand.

They walk no matter what. No matter what. Because they made a vow to do so.

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love. 

–Mother Teresa

And the soldier marched.

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