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The power of shoe polish: A 9/11 legacy

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When the world turned upside-down on September 11, 2001, some turned to shoe polish.

Every now and then we come across something we can’t quite wrap our heads around - a statement, a concept, an event. So we frantically search for something familiar, something simple that we can comprehend. When we find it, we cling to it. Prior to 9/11, who could believe somebody would intentionally fly a plane into the World Trade Center? Who could understand a hatred so strong that it would outweigh an individual’s will to live?


In the face of mind-bending questions such as these, a percentage of our population clung to shoe polish. It’s a small thing, but sometimes it’s the small things that make the biggest impression. In the days and weeks that followed the atrocity on American soil, our consciousness was bombarded with snippets of incredulity, horror, shock and disgust. What about the people who were in the building? Who in America wasn’t asking themselves that very question? Our imaginations painted pictures of men and women trying to make their way out of the wreckage. As outsiders, we imagined fear, confusion, a longing for loved ones by the side. We saw an isolated descent down 60, 70, even 80 flights of stairs that offered obstacles at every landing. We felt the relief then consequential hopelessness of making it out of the building, only to face the unspeakable setting that lie at street level.


What calmed and granted any measure of peace to citizens of D/FW was the presence of life-affirming, white shoe-polished messages emblazoned on the backs of SUVs, trucks and passenger vans. For once, there was no such thing as Republican or Democrat or any other divisive label. There was only “God Bless America.” We were powerless over what happened, but we weren’t. We turned traffic jams into billboards reminding us that we were all in the same boat together. We were smaller than ourselves yet we were so much bigger than ourselves at the same time.


Ten years later, things are different. Cars are just cars with dirt, dust and bumper stickers on the back. But we have something else. We have records from the day that shocked America, and today it's the records that are most shocking. The archives tell a different tale than the one previously imagined. It’s a tale about heroism overshadowing horror. Where we imagined confusion and isolation, there was actually direction and aid. There were strangers escorting strangers to safety. There were people who refused to leave the side of a colleague, an acquaintance, someone they’ve never before encountered. Some played music to calm the crowd, some assisted the injured survivors who made it out, and some went back in to bring more out. Time and time again they went back, when they could have easily thanked their lucky stars and headed home. How many of those 3,000 lives that were lost were only lost because they went back in to save someone else? That is far more remarkable than a destructive nature with a death wish.


There’s no question that Evil perpetuated 9/11. But on balance, Good prevailed. Indeed, there were men willing to give their lives to end to the lives of others. But they were sorely outnumbered by men and women willing to give their lives to save the lives of others.

As we commemorate America’s loss, let’s remember the heroes of 9/11 and the sacrifices they made for mankind. Embrace life. Love. Laugh. Run in the rain. Do what makes you happy. Read Dallas Salsa Examiner and dance Salsa and Bachata. Shoe-polish your car.


God Bless America.

God Bless Everybody.

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