“What separates us from the animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met (Levithan).”

We all remember that day; where we were, what we were doing, who we were with, what we were feeling. It is a day that will eternally be etched into the minds of all Americans. Nineteen years have now passed since that tragic Tuesday morning, yet it feels only like yesterday when America was changed forever.

This upcoming year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans will not have the opportunity to congregate in honor of those lost during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The ceremony honoring the nearly 3,000 victims will be held this year without live readings from the family of the victims. Instead, in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, name reading recordings from the 9/11 Memorial & Museum will be played. This does not mean, however, that we cannot still pay tribute to all those who lost their lives that day.  For those wondering how they can personally honor and commemorate the fallen while also following safety protocols, here are a few ideas:

Honoring through public service: Americans across the country are called to volunteer in the local communities in tribute to the individuals lost and injured in the attacks, first responders, and the many who have risen in service to defend our freedom. On September 4, 2002, President Bush proclaimed September 11, 2002, as the first Patriot Day and requested the observance of the day as an annually recognized National Day of Service and Remembrance (Americans to Honor 9/11 Anniversary with Volunteer Service, 2019). “Volunteer service is woven into the fabric of our nation,” states Barbara Stewart, the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “The 9/11 Day of Service is an opportunity to rekindle the spirit of unity that swept the nation in the days following the tragic attacks. Each year, we rededicate ourselves to the ideals that define our country and unite us as one (Americans to Honor 9/11 Anniversary with Volunteer Service, 2019).” Simple activities such as donating to nonprofits, delivering meals and groceries to vulnerable seniors, giving blood and even checking in on neighbors, friends and family through a phone call are just a few ways you can make a difference in your community.

Thank those who serve to protect us: Ever since I was a child, my parents made sure I was cognizant of the sacrifices those serving our country make to protect our freedoms. In fact, every single individual in uniform I have the privilege of coming across in life, I make sure to go up, shake their hand and while maintaining eye contact, personally thank them for their service. Obviously with the current pandemic, handshakes and close encounters are not recommended. However, I still urge you to verbally thank anyone you may come across in uniform not just on the anniversary of this day, but also the other 364 days of the year. Since 9/11, 2.77 million service members have served on over 5.4 million different deployments (McCarthy, 2018). People saw the death and devastation caused by the attacks up close and personal, and decided to take matters into their own hands. These men and women are heroes. A little kindness goes a long way.

Moment of silence: To honor all who were lost in the tragedy, a moment of silence on September 11 at any or all of the following times marks key moments from that day (Today is the time to remember 9/11). If you are able to, please join the country in doing so at these 6 times:

  •   8:46 am: American Airlines flight 11 crashes into the North Tower
  •   9:03 am: United Airlines flight 175 crashes into the South Tower
  •   9:37 am: American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon
  •   9:59 am: The South Tower collapses
  •   10:03 am: After learning of the other attacks, passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 launch a counter attack aboard the plane against the hijackers. The plane later crashes into an empty field near Shanksville, PA
  •   10:28 am: The North Tower collapses

Read the names of the victims:  The names of all the men, women and children killed as a result of the 9/11 attacks are traditionally read aloud by the victim’s family. However, as this will not be occurring this year, I encourage you to find the list and read each individual’s name. Here is a link you can use to do so. Please note: It is one thing to hear how many lives were lost that day, but it is another thing to actually read the long list of names of those who perished. This can bring upon a plethora of emotions. Let us never forget their names.

Lower flag in remembrance: If you have a flag, display it at half-staff from sunrise to sunset. The expected sunrise for Richmond on September 11, 2020 is at 6:48 am, while the expected sunset is at 7:22 pm (Sunrise and sunset times in Richmond, 2020). Lowering the flag at half-staff is a sign of respect and mourning for the 2,977 individuals we lost that day.

September 11, 2001 was a dark day for America. Nearly 3,000 people perished: approximately 2,750 in New York, 184 at the Pentagon and 40 in Pennsylvania. Included in the total in New York City were more than 400 police officers and firefighters who lost their lives after rushing to the scene and into the towers (Bergen, 2020). We cannot change the past, but we can reshape the future through our public service and philanthropic work.

Never forget.


Americans to Honor 9/11 Anniversary with Volunteer Service. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.nationalservice.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2019/americans-honor-911-anniversary-volunteer-service

Bergen, P. (2020). September 11 attacks. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/event/September-11-attacks/The-attacks

Levithan, D. Retrieved from https://www.relicsworld.com/david-levithan/what-separates-us-from-the-animals-what-separates-us-from-the-chaos-author-david-levithan

McCarthy, N. (2018). 2.77 Million Service Members Have Served On 5.4 Million Deployments Since 9/11 [Infographic]. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2018/03/20/2-77-million-service-members-have-served-on-5-4-million-deployments-since-911-infographic/#22077ce250db

Sunrise and sunset times in Richmond, September 2020. Retrieved from https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/usa/richmond?month=9&year=2020

Today is the time to remember 9/11 — the day we said we’d never forget; reflect in your own way | NKyTribune. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.nkytribune.com/2019/09/today-is-the-time-to-remember-9-11-the-day-we-said-wed-never-forget-reflect-in-your-own-way/

Joey Roman is a Virginia Management Fellow currently working at the Virginia Retirement System (VRS).