Remembering 9-11 in a Foreign Land: The Importance of Continuing to Tell Our Stories

Since surviving 9-11 as a first responder (New York City fire officer), I have only been away from New York City a couple of times on the anniversary of 9-11. The first time (probably five years after) I was in Indiana at a family reunion. But I felt really disconnected from my family members. So we visited an Indiana firehouse and I gave my brother and sister firefighters a token of my appreciation for their service -- some cake. The firefighters asked me about my 9-11 experience and I thanked them for their service every day to their communities.

Now we are at the twelfth anniversary and many people won't even pause to remember 9-11. When I decided to take a tour of Spain in September, I realized I would be there on the 9-11 anniversary but didn't think too much about how I might feel about being away from New York. As the day approached, I felt I needed to do something to honor and remember all the people lost that day. Most of my travel companions -- about 30 of us-- gathered for an hour and they listened as I talked about 9-11. No one else there was a New Yorker or had a personal connection to 9-11 but everyone listened respectfully and thanked me for telling my story. They felt more personally connected to that historical event and were encouraged to reflect not only about the past but also what we need to do together to make a better future.

Does it serve any purpose to tell our stories? Do projects like MAKERS which tell the personal stories of women have a positive impact on total strangers and future generations?

I believe that people can be inspired by the stories of past obstacles, overcome tragedies that result in renewed efforts for justice and peace, examples of courage and sacrifice -- stories that encourage people to take action themselves to make the future better for all. That is why I have joined together with others to tell our stories of 9-11 and that is why I have told my story for Makers. These stories show us the way forward.

// Brenda Berkman served the City of New York for 25 years before retiring in 2006 as a captain in its storied Fire Department. She was among the first class of women hired. //