We all mark important occasions in our own way. To say September 11 is an important occasion in the United States is a bit of an understatement, even 13 years after the attacks on in 2001. I have not felt the impact of this as much as others I know, but in the past year I’ve become closer to the events on 9/11 and find myself with different feelings this year.
This information is everywhere today, but the numbers are worth repeating: in 2001, attacks killed almost 3,000 people in New York, the Washington DC area and Pennsylvania. Annually on September 11, the United States observes six moments of silence marking the strikes on the towers, and the Pentagon, the collapse of the skyscrapers and the time United Airlines Flight 93 went down in Pennsylvania.
I was not a New Yorker in 2001. I recall where I was when I found out, what I did for the next 48 hours, who I was with, and all of the feelings associated with that time. I moved to New York a few years later and annually I can see the great beams of light projected to the sky from my apartment window. It is an incredible sight. Last year I went to the memorial site on 9/11 to look at the museum and the items left by fellow NYers who lost loved ones. I’ve listened to the reading of the names, and cried without knowing any of the people personally.
9/11 is part of the history here that the city carries quietly with it every day. But it wasn’t until November that I felt a more personal connection to the event. That was when I had the pleasure of meeting Alice Hoagland, mother of Mark Bingham. Mark was a rugby player, and was one of the passengers on United Flight 93 who fought against the hijackers. Mark is considered one of the many heroes of 9/11.
Alice has championed LGBT rights and the issue of airline safety in the years since Mark’s death. She also presented to me the Mark Bingham Athlete of the Year award at the Compete Sports Diversity Awards from Compete Magazine. It was the first time the “Athlete of the Year” award was given under Mark’s name. I got to learn more about Mark’s story and his mother’s work; it was a great honor to receive this award, but even more so to be associated with Mark. It also added a face and a name and a story to the outcome of that day.
Mark’s actions on the flight were incredible, but he was an incredible guy before that trip, and is the focus of a documentary, The Rugby Player. He is also the inspiration for the Bingham Cup, a biennial international rugby union competition for gay and bisexual men.
As time passes, every year this memory feels differently to me. I remember the day, but don’t remember how I processed it on year five, or ten, or any in between. But today I’m spending some time being thankful that Mark and Alice have been introduced into my life, and reflecting on my special tie to them.