A run to remember spirit of Americans evident every single day
Wednesday, September 19, 2012 5:58 AM
Eleven years ago, I ended a long day on Sept. 11, 2001, with a run. There had been some stressful hours in there and I needed some time, not only to unwind, but also to isolate myself to try to make sense of all that had happened that tragic day when terrorists struck our country. Our staff had an ear to the radio - it was a Tuesday, production time for two of our newspapers, so we had no free moments to watch television - as the events of the day unfolded the horror became more clear, but the meaning more clouded.
The run helped some as I came across a noisy group of children playing as if nothing had happened, which reminded me that life goes on, even if I still feared that the futures of these children would be radically changed by this malicious attack on innocent people. The events on 9/11 did change our lives as we have extreme security measures in place, are facing repercussions from two wars started as a result of that day, and now realize, with the recent uprisings over an Internet video, that the Middle East hasn't changed as much as we would like to believe despite the promise of the Arab Spring.
Last week, I began Sept. 11 with a run, but this time I wasn't alone and I wasn't so fearful of our future. In all honesty, I hadn't even thought much about it being the anniversary of 9/11 except for a few announcements I heard on the radio as I drove to my running destination early that morning.
My running partner was Mike Ehredt, who is running the equivalent of a marathon a day - more than 26 miles - on a journey from International Falls, Minn., to Galveston, Texas, as part of his Project America Run, in which he plants a flag every mile to honor a soldier killed in the war in Afghanistan. Meeting him in Preston, I only ran a few miles with him on his way to Decorah, but it was enough to get a sense of what he and his project was about.
We headed down the Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail and he gave me a flag with a yellow ribbon below it that listed the name, rank, age and hometown of a fallen military member. After a mile of running, I placed the flag in the ground along the trail. He, a veteran, saluted and I placed my hand over my heart during a brief silence before we began running again. In the early morning light with only the sounds of birds around us, it seemed like a sacred place and I felt honored to help him with his ritual that he will have done 2,100 times before he ends his journey on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
In between the brief ceremonies of honor, we exchanged stories as he told me about the experiences so far on his journey on foot. He had met some characters, but all of them gracious and supportive of his quest to honor deceased veterans.
Even though the conflict in Afghanistan can be tied back to 9/11, Ehredt never talked about this significant event in our nation's history. In between the solemn moments every mile, our moods were upbeat as we made our way south down the divine trail before I had to turn back after planting the fourth flag of the morning.
Sept. 11 was a Tuesday again this year and I had to run to my car at the trailhead in Preston and get back to the office for production of two of our newspapers. I don't normally run in the morning, but this provided an opportunity to get a story for our Bluff Country Reader that had originally been scheduled as the responsibility of an editor who was in the hospital.
Although 9/11 never came up in our conversation on the run that morning, it did drift into each of our thoughts later that day. For Ehredt, it happened after I left and, with his thoughts to himself once again, he started to contemplate a question from a 4-year-old he met earlier in his journey who asked "why is freedom so important to you?"
Since it was Sept. 11, he looked at the names on each yellow ribbon attached to the flag and tried to find a connection between them and those we lost on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York. He came to the conclusion that it is the spirit of Americans - that people, such as the firefighters rushing into a dangerous situation 11 years ago, and soldiers who risk their lives, "respond without hesitating."
Later that day, my mind also thought about that spirit in so many Americans with an incident closer to home. I thought about the accounts I had heard when editor Lisa Brainard fell off a bridge the previous week. Several people responded without hesitation, charging down a river embankment to rescue her.
The Lanesboro Ambulance Service responded quickly and helped stabilize Brainard. Like other small town services, the ambulance is staffed by a team of people that essentially volunteer their valuable time to a service that is so important in all the small, yet traumatic, emergencies that are far removed from 9/11.
And, our dedicated health professionals, though earning good pay, take on a role that few of us could, or would want to, handle. These devoted people are also responding by providing care around the clock to repair the damage from the fall.
A person running across our country is unusual, but not unheard of in the United States. Yet, in other countries it may be impossible due to safety or lack of support from strangers. People rushing to the aid of someone in need appears to be the usual in our country for we hear about the unselfish responses to major catastrophes and isolated accidents all the time.
The spirit of Americans, what Ehredt says is a "core value in us all," shines through even when people least expect it, but often when they most need it. Despite facing a world that always seems to be on the brink of destruction, it doesn't take a special anniversary such as 9/11 to make us appreciate all the good deeds people do without hesitation every single day.