I have no personal frame of reference for the tragedy of 9/11. Like many others, I was safely at work in an office in middle America when I heard the news – the initial reports that some sort of small plane had apparently flown into one of the towers, a terrible accident – only to find myself glued to the television as the horrific events began to unfold. I didn’t know anyone in either of the towers, to my knowledge, so I had no loved ones to frantically call, to worry about, or to later mourn. There was no immediate Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon exercise for me, either. There was no I know someone who has a cousin who works on the 14th floor that would somehow make the events more personal. And yet, there was no way to feel isolated from the devastation of the day. It was a horrifying act, certainly, but one made more horrifying because we were actually watching it happen, all while being completely unable to do anything to stop it.

In the years since the attacks, much has been written about that now infamous day and all of the days that would follow. For a week now, I’ve been reading a lot of commemorative pieces, written on the eve of the tenth anniversary, which try to bring a sense of perspective to the day that can only be found with some distance. People seem to want to talk about it now more than ever before. There are endless stories in the news, many focusing on the survivors or the families of those lost, on the first responders, on the politicians who would raise and fall as a result, the rebuilding efforts at Ground Zero, and on the ways that our nation has changed – and maybe, not changed – since.

There’s an interesting piece by Kurt Anderson in the current TIME magazine titled “Terror’s Half Life.” In it, Anderson suggests that despite all of our day-that-changed-America-forever proclamations, for many of us – perhaps especially those of us, like myself, without a personal frame of reference – fundamental change hasn’t happened.

For the several thousand Americans who died that day, of course, and the thousands more killed or wounded in the resulting wars and for the families and friends of all of them, the existential consequences of 9/11 could not be larger. But its impact on the ways most of us live our lives? Not so much. It was a jolt that altered the course of history spectacularly, but it has not, for better and for worse, transformed the American people. Terror, we discovered, has a half-life.

After the attacks, experts predicted epidemic levels of posttraumatic stress. But the number of people suffering psychological problems was vanishingly small — just six months later, a fraction of 1%, even among Manhattanites. In the short term, in fact, the attacks actually made most of us happier. According to polls in the fall and winter after 9/11, a huge majority of Americans, between 57% and 72%, suddenly thought the country was headed in the right direction. We felt united in our horror and confusion and determination. But within six months, that spike of hopefulness had evaporated. On one hand, war fever began rising, and on the other, everyday life in America returned to normal.

Read more:,9171,2092213,00.html#ixzz1XZKKxnDN

And so I’m left to wonder, are there ways that we should have changed, a lasting change, but didn’t? I’m not even talking about on a national level, and certainly not on a political level, but personally. Have we – have I? – missed an opportunity to make a better way forward, a change birthed out of the ashes of such tragedy?

What better time than now. In tribute.

We remember by doing.

For more information on the “I will” tribute movement, visit their website [] and find them on Facebook [].



Family members often remark that my niece Cece and I seem to share a personality, which is not a statement I think is ever meant as a compliment to either of us, although being who we are, we certainly take it as one. Thank you, we simply say. While I’ve done my best over the years to impart little wisdoms that may have otherwise slipped through the cracks — how to leave tiny footprints on the underside of her mother’s glass dining room table, a love for colorful language and the occasional double entendre, and an appreciation for sushi, all things Apple, and 80s alternative music — I couldn’t let this moment pass without a few practical tips as she heads off to her freshman year in college.

And so, here we go.

(1) Reinvention is overrated. A lot of kids go away to college and attempt to launch a new persona. (Ever wonder why some people on Facebook call me Jeff and others call me Jeffrey? This is why.) I imagine it’s because this may be the only time in their lives when they have the opportunity to start completely fresh and be whatever and/or whoever they want to be. That’s a great plan. For a week. A month or two, tops. And then they return to being who they always have been, which leaves everyone they’ve just met a little confused. So, don’t bother with it. You’re pretty fantastic just as you are, so just do that.

(2) Bathe. It bothers me that I have to even mention this, but please bathe regularly. One in five college freshmen don’t bathe at all (I made that statistic up) and there’s no excuse for it. Bathe in the morning before classes, which, yes I know, means rolling your lazy ass out of bed seven and a half minutes earlier. But, if you do, you’ll be able to concentrate better in class, you’ll end up learning more, you’ll look better to casual passersby (what’s more important than that?), and you won’t stink. Win, win.

(3) Avoid the 7:50. If you schedule a class at 7:50 AM, the likelihood that you’ll attend regularly is slim, so don’t do it. And even if you do end up attending the class now and then, you probably won’t have taken the time to bathe first. We just covered that, Cecilia.

(4) Meet people. Lots of people. People you wouldn’t normally meet. You’ll be surprised.

(5) Call your mother. She’s not going to figure out how to Skype, so you’re probably going to have to call her. On the phone. But do it. You’re her first born and she’s nutty enough as it is, so check in periodically. If you do this somewhat regularly, you’ll be able to get away with a quick call, too. If you only call every two or three weeks, you’re going to end up on the phone with her for an hour and who really has time for that? Texting is all well and good, but she’s going to want to hear your voice. Just don’t call her when you’re drunk, because she’ll know. Not that you’re going to drink, because you really shouldn’t do that, either. [Important side note: When your college friends tag you in pictures on Facebook, remember that your entire family will see them. Do I really need to elaborate?]

(6) Use a calendar. You have that shiny new iPhone, so use it. Enter all of your paper due dates, test dates, and study group times in the little calendar and have the thing alert you a day or two ahead of time. Because life will get busy and you’ll forget, that’s why.

(7) Don’t plagiarize. If you found it using Google, your professor can, too.

(8) And now, a word about grain alcohol. Don’t.

(9) Ask for help. You’re a smart kid and all, but you’re going to occasionally need help. When you don’t understand a particular assignment, when you need a safe ride home from an unsafe party, when you decide that you and your roommate would prefer to bunk your beds after all, and in countless other unplanned and unimaginable situations, don’t be afraid to ask for help. So, cultivate some good resources… before you need help. This is another reason why you need to meet people, lots of people, people you wouldn’t normally meet.

(10) Not every class is life-changing. In fact, I’m not going to lie to you, some of them will be complete bullshit. You can still learn something, though, even if it’s just learning how to tolerate (and succeed in) less-than-enjoyable circumstances. This is a life skill that will serve you well. Trust me on this.

This is an exciting time for you. It should be. You have all the promise and possibility imaginable right at your feet, so don’t screw this up. That said, you’re going to screw some things up and that’s okay, too. Learn from them, admit when you’ve been wrong, have a sense of humor about yourself, and then, press onward. They will end up being the life lessons you remember anyway.

I’m serious about the grain alcohol.

I love you.

A thousand words.

Grandpa Jim & siblings | Late 1920s

Every day we log on to Facebook and see pictures of our friends and family… of their kids, their pets, their random observations, and more times than not, the turkey sandwich they’re getting ready to have for lunch. The images are inescapable and, often times, forgotten in the time it takes us to scroll down the page. Sure, a select few make it from pixels-on-a-screen to a frame on the bedside table, but it’s easy to become desensitized to the notion that a picture captures an exact moment in time.

Jim & Millie | 1940

Several years ago we decided to throw a surprise 80th birthday party for my grandfather. Part of the preparation involved gathering pictures of my grandpa from various willing relatives, with the goal of building a photographic timeline of his life. I wasn’t sure what we’d be able to piece together, as my sole memory of “old pictures” when I was growing up was my grandmother talking about how some day she was going to put them all in chronological albums and label them. She was big on labels, my grandmother, perhaps proof that a little of my OCD trickled down the family tree from her. I don’t think the pictures ever made it into those oft-mentioned mythical albums, though, as her memory faded long before the task was checked off the TO DO list.

Jim & Millie | 1942

The pictures we were able to gather, though, were a wonderful surprise. Once the party was over, before returning the pictures to their rightful owners — I had to sign some sort of blood oath with a few of the donators — we made sure to scan a copy of each and every one, labeling them to the best of our collective abilities.

I’m really not overly sentimental when it comes to physical possessions. Running from a burning house, I’d have a hard time listing a half dozen things that I’d be sure to grab. Some of the pictures that were collected for that birthday party, though — many of them now enlarged, framed, and decorating our walls — have become my most prized possessions. Maybe it’s because they give me a sense of history or a feeling of roots. Perhaps they serve as a bridge to the past in a way that allows me to connect with the untold experiences of my loved ones. Often, though, it’s just because they make me smile.

Jim & sons | 1954

While I’m sure every picture has a story, I don’t know any of them for sure. I imagine that most of these pictures mark some sort of special occasion… a scheduled annual family photo, an Easter Sunday before leaving for church, or the arrival of a new bundle of joy. I love being able to recognize the same glimmers of individual personality, even in an old grainy photograph, that I still see to this day in my flesh and blood loved ones.

I imagine my grandmother often serving as family photographer, directing every pose and chastising the uncooperative. I look for signs of the same “would you please just take the blasted picture” rumblings that I routinely hear from certain teenagers (and yes, certain 41 year olds) whenever my mother pulls out a camera at Christmas dinner. I wonder what became of the photos once they were developed, if they were put in frames on the wall or kept on a bedside table. And then, when did the photos come down from those walls or out of those frames, only to be put in a box to be sorted at a later date? What did they think would become of them? Did they have any idea how meaningful those pictures would become, decades later, to future generations just looking for a connection?

So here are just a couple of my treasured possessions, a few small moments captured on film that mean the world to me. There’s not a turkey sandwich in the bunch.