Today is a solemn day.

Today is a day we pay tribute to all those who gave their lives to save another, including 412 emergency responders.

Today is a day we remember, “But for the grace of God, go I.”

It’s hard not to think that when 2,996 people died in the simple act of boarding a plane, going to work, or responding to a seemingly strange emergency call, that it could just as easily been you or me.

I often preach the importance of love, empathy, and kindness. I often wonder what the world would be like if those values offset every other. I suspect we’d have less terror, less death, and less sadness. Yet our world is a complex one; our emotions are far ranging; and we have history to contend with. Nonetheless, we persevere and progress.

We persevere because in our hearts we know that life is good; that bad things do happen – like school shootings, white nationalist rallies, and massive hurricanes – yet the human spirit is stronger than a terrorist attack, a hate group, and mother nature. I know because I’ve witnessed it time and time again. And what I’ve learned over two decades of helping people at a time when really bad things happen is that love is stronger than hate; that diversity – with all its challenges – is stronger than uniformity; and that a strong social fabric can help us heal and repair the broken parts of our community and world.

Let me conclude by saying, I was at the World Trade Center site within weeks after the Terrorist Attack. I smelled death. I saw fear in the eyes of New Yorkers. I heard the sobbing of friends and families still holding out hope that a loved one would be found. I saw conveyor belts at the landfill sorting for evidence and body parts. It’s all something I never want to see, feel, or hear again.

So, 17 years later, rise up. Rise up with me and perform a heroic act or a simple act; an act that demonstrates that you are empathetic towards another human being. Live the quote on the steps of the Evanston Public Library, “You can step where I step but you can’t walk in my shoes unless you try.”

There are 2,996 families hurting this day and every day because of what happened on 9/11 – You can add 8,516 more U.S. families who had loved ones die in the subsequent Afghan and Iraq War. Imagine if 7.5 billion people lived with love, kindness, and empathy every day? Imagine if 75,000 in our own City did? How different our world would be. I know we have the power to change attitudes to root out hate, and if we work on that every day that is the best tribute we can give to those who perished on this fateful day 17 years.

May God and all of us continue to give strength and comfort to those families impacted by the horrific and still unfathomable event that occurred 17 years ago today to this hour.