In Gloucester, it was a perfect late-summer morning. The sky was blue with a few fluffy clouds. The air was mild — warm enough to not need a sweater, but not hot. I was at work and just getting into my daily schedule when we received a phone call from a co-worker’s husband. A commercial jet had hit one of the World Trade Center towers in New York. While we found it tragic, we thought it was an accident. And then the second plane hit. That day and its aftermath changed our lives forever.

Today is Sept. 11 — 19 years after the terrorist attacks that killed close to 3,000 individuals and injured many thousands more. This event was a pivotal moment in our history — similar in impact to the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941; the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963; and the 2020 pandemic. These events changed forever the way we see and respond to the world. Does anyone alive today not remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard that the towers had been attacked? 

By a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress on Dec. 18, 2001, Sept. 11 was designated as Patriot Day. Since then, all three sitting presidents have proclaimed Sept. 11 as Patriot Day, calling on all individuals and organizations to honor those lost on Sept. 11, 2001, including the many heroic first responders who lost their lives.

A tradition has begun to honor Patriot Day with community service. In 2019, President Trump’s proclamation stated, “I call upon the people of the United States to participate in community service in honor of those our Nation lost ...” The full proclamation can be read at www.whitehouse.gov.

Anyone interested in participating in community service can contact one of the myriad nonprofit organizations on the North Shore. Lists of these amazing agencies can be found through the online business directories of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce (www.northshorechamber.org or 978-774-8565), the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce (www.capeannchamber.com or 978-283-1601), or the Greater Beverly Chamber of Commerce (www.greaterbeverlychamber.com or 978-232-9559).

Or you can call a friend or loved one who may be lonely and in need of a friendly chat, or pick up some trash along the road in your neighborhood, or stop at the store and pick up a few school supplies that a family experiencing financial difficulties might need. Community service does not have to be a huge task or a long-term commitment — service can take the form of small projects that improve our world. 

People age 55 and over who would like to volunteer in their community can contact SeniorCare at 978-281-1750 and ask to speak with the RSVP Department. RSVP is partially funded through AmeriCorp. AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs that help improve lives and foster civic engagement. RSVP volunteers serve in a variety of ways — delivering Meals on Wheels lunches to homebound seniors, knitting blankets for babies, driving seniors to medical appointments, assisting at food pantries and senior centers. The list goes on and on. 

As we enter the final seven and a half weeks of our nation’s election cycle, there are those who would divide this country. Maybe we can stop and remember the unity we all felt 19 years ago, and try to hear each other a little better and look beyond our personal prejudices and needs.

Tracy Arabian is the communications officer at SeniorCare Inc., a local agency on aging that serves Gloucester, Beverly, Essex, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rockport, Topsfield and Wenham.

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