The Paradox of Sacrifice: A Reflection of 9/11 and J’s Death

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341 Firefighters FDNY

11 EMTS/Paramedics/Emergency Medical Personal

60 Police Officers from various departments

First, let us stop and absorb those numbers.  Concentrate on them. Add them up.  412 sacrifices.  412 lives lost.  412 families who are forever affected. And when you are finished reflecting, please know that the topic of this post is not meant to downplay, diminish, or overshadow any civilian death that senselessly occurred on September 11, 2001. The grief each of their families feel is just as real, horrible, and intense as those families who gave the ultimate sacrifice on the same day. 

However, today, I would like to reflect on how these numbers and a Facebook post reminded me again why first responders and emergency personal  and their families willingly sacrifice on a daily basis.  You see, for the past week, I have found myself consumed with an anger at being the wife of an officer.  I began to resent it…to despise making any more sacrifices, and for those of you who regularly follow my blog, you understand that this is a dramatic change of feelings from when I started to blog. 

I found myself having conversations about how “I’ve made enough sacrifices for J’s career, and frankly I’m just tired of it. I’m done…I’m tired, and I just want to be Stephanie.”  And then I would follow up by saying something to the degree of, “I’m tired of being solely known as the ‘widow of a fallen officer.'”  I even went as far as to say that ” I’m done asking C to sacrifice for his father’s career, and his father isn’t even here anymore.”  Yep, I’ll admit it, those exact words came out of my mouth less than 3 days ago.  And honestly, now I’m ashamed, but in those moments, what I felt was real and valid and probably even understandable.  I kept focusing on sacrificing for J’s career, and in doing so, I lost sight of the true importance of his career.  That I wasn’t sacrificing for HIS career, I was sacrificing for EACH of you.  For those of you who are resenting me, or saying in your mind, “how could she feel that way.  How dare she!”  I’d like to say, I’ve made it a practice to be honest with you about this process because it lets you know I’m human.  Far too many people put on masks and create a façade of being a robot.  We play into societal pressures of conforming our emotions to those that are acceptable.  Well, I was done being a robot 3 months ago, and today let’s talk about the real feelings this level of sacrifice causes and how each of us is required to make sacrifices in order for the good of our future.

Sac·ri·fice: Noun: an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.

Our nation’s success, and please don’t get political here, has always been based upon the idea of sacrifice for the greater good.  While I will agree, often times in our day-to-day living, we lose sight of the importance of sacrifice.  I just admitted to it, and my family paid an ultimate sacrifice, yet I still forget its vital role in ensuring our nation’s freedoms and level of power in the world.  We as individuals, and therefore as a nation, have a sense of entitlement that tells us “other people can make a sacrifice for the greater good, my role in this world is too important to sacrifice.”  But, sacrificing doesn’t just mean giving your life. You don’t have to be a first responder or emergency personal in order to sacrifice.  So let’s discuss two different methods of sacrifice and how both are essential to the future of our country. 

When my drastic change in feelings begin to seep into my mind and poison my thought process and my heart, I welcomed it. I was tired of putting on a show of how proud I was to be an officer’s wife.  And, while I am in no way speaking on behalf of any of the men and women who lost their spouses or family members on September 11, 2001, I dare say that at some point, they resented having to make this sacrifice too.  I didn’t get a choice in whether or not I wanted to sacrifice my husband’s life for the greater good of the community.  Yes, I could have told him, “don’t be an officer,” but I can assure you, that wouldn’t have gone over well. Therefore, this past week, I’ve resented being forced by another to make this sacrifice.  I got caught up in the negative feelings of how horrible my life is, and how C will spend the rest of his life referring to his daddy as “watching down on us from heaven.” And, for a little while I liked being this angry and upset.  I let my flesh take over, and I actually liked saying “I’m DONE.”  I felt like no one else had sacrificed to the level I had, and while people were appreciative of our sacrifice, I still didn’t find that to be enough.  I lost sight of the foundational role of sacrifice in our country, and in a sense, I lost sight of myself. 

This morning when I woke, little reminders began to flood into my mind and my life: an unexpected conversation with a friend who is considering law enforcement, a Facebook post from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a random news story about the sacrifice of the first responders of 9/11, and I began to realize, I’m not alone.  That sacrifice should be an act one is proud of making.  One that we should be accepting of and willing to do.  Then, I began to realize, just because one is proud of a sacrifice and is willing to make it, doesn’t mean one has to like it.  I don’t have to LIKE that my husband was killed in the line of duty protecting others.  I don’t have to like that our country lost 412 first responders exactly 12 years ago today.  I don’t have to like that because of that numerous families are STILL coping with the idea that their loved one was willing to sacrifice.  And so I find myself living within a paradox.  The realization that it’s okay to feel proud of my husband and the many others who have given their lives for the greater good, but that it is also okay to not like the fact that we had to make that sacrifice.  Do I wish it could have been someone else on June 14th, 2013- not in a heartbeat and not ever.  I would never wish this pain upon anyone else.  Do I wish that it didn’t have to happen- of course!  Do I wish that we could exist in a utopian society where sacrifices wouldn’t have to be made- nope. 

Maybe that last answer surprised you?  Honestly, it surprised me.  If we lived in a utopian society, there would be no appreciation for how wonderful we have it.  It would just be acceptance, the normal way of life.  Unfortunately, we have to exist in a society where sometimes we are reminded by horrible events of the good that still exists within society.  It refreshes our society, opens our eyes, and reminds us of the vital role of sacrifice within our country. In a way, the level of sacrifice cleanses our society, and washes the dirt out of our wounds.  It becomes a rally point.  A means by which we redefine our country.  The statistics of how many first responders gave their lives that day is surprising.  People say “that’s too many,” “they were senseless deaths.”  I agree.  It is too many. They did die a senseless death.  All of these 412 men and women should still be walking the streets today.  Protecting us, rendering aide, and hugging their family each night.  But, the reality is, they aren’t.  And while some say their death was in “vain.” It wasn’t.  The evil in which our society constantly tries to stamp out is one of the few areas in which the people of our society can still agree to fight against. 

Often times it is impossible to get our society to agree upon what the “greater good is.”  How do you know that you are sacrificing for the “greater good?”  I can answer that question because of my faith.  And, I pray you can too.  The reality is, people need to see the good in the world, and people can see the good in the world because of the sacrifices of others.  Evil people, those who reek havoc are inclined to do so because of their inability to sacrifice for others.  Their inability to recognize that there is a greater need in the world other than their own.  Willingness to sacrifice so that others can succeed or have a better life is what makes any relationship work, and it is what makes police officers, firefighters, EMS and other first responders, and their families a different type of person.  Those brave 412 men and women who gave their lives 12 years ago knew the definition of sacrifice.  They are constant reminders of the good that still exists within society. 

In one of the darkest moments of American history, their level of sacrifice is a shining beacon of hope and a reminder of the greater good within our society.  And even though all of their families, and even myself, don’t like the death of family member.  We wish we could take it back, and we wish that we weren’t forced to endure the lasting effects of the sacrifice.  We still did it. And, we will continue to endure, to sacrifice, and to remember because we are the good in the world.  Their sacrifice shines brighter in my mind then the vial monsters who so cowardly attacked us that day.  If I sit quietly enough, and I pray enough, J’s sacrifice shines brighter than the wickedness that took him away from us.

And, as an extra silver lining in all of this.  The sacrifices of civilians and their families shine just as brightly.  While my situation is far less grave and less traumatic than 9/11, and I would in NO way compare my situation to the events of 9/11, both still are reminders of the good in the world.  In moments of turmoil, sadness, and confusion, normal every day people emerge as heroes too. Their emergence is because of their willingness to sacrifice.  The good people in the world still sacrifice.  They work at TJMaxx and buy a fake pearl necklace, they donate their extra money that would have bought them a nicer meal to a 9/11 relief fund, they attend a benefit pancake breakfast and empty all of their change into the bucket, they take time out of their day to continue to pray for those affected by the tragic events of 9/11.  All of these are examples of sacrifice.  Sacrifice comes in the so many different forms, but no matter its form, it’s an example of how you are being the good in the world. 

And so today as our nation stands tall and remembers all of the heroes who gave their lives so willingly 12 years ago, I’m reminded that the need for sacrifice didn’t end 12 years ago- it is and always will be a constant need within our society.  I’m beyond grateful to live in a country whose citizens are willing to sacrifice.  And I’m even more grateful to be blessed to live in a community whose citizens are still sacrificing to honor my husband’s ultimate sacrifice.  It doesn’t bring him back, and honestly I’m still angry that he’s gone, but it reminds me of the good in the world.  It allows me to continue to be the pink behind the thin blue line.  The reminder that there is still good, and to continue the fight. And that real love stories, no matter if the seem to end with an ultimate sacrifice, have no endings. That despite the fact my life seems horrible right now, in the end his sacrifice is a reminder of the good in him, and the good in me, and ultimately the good in the world.
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4 thoughts on “The Paradox of Sacrifice: A Reflection of 9/11 and J’s Death

  1. Michelle Warren says:

    You just endured another step in your grieving process. Continued prayers!

  2. amnelson30 says:

    I don’t think anyone would think “how could she feel that way” or ” how dare she.” You are working through your feelings and it is normal. I remember praying when we got off the phone that you NOT feel guilty for those words. I knew, not personally, what you were through and don’t want you to feel bad. You are finding your way and everyone loves you. Even J would agree!!!

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