As I type, I am sitting on the tarmac, waiting for take-off at Philadelphia International Airport. It is 9/11/11 and I am flying to the CDC in Atlanta for a one day meeting focusing on provision of public health education in medical schools with an eye on how best medicine and public health together can address the huge issue of reducing health disparities in our nation.
At the airport, it seems everyone is wearing U.S. flag stickers with "WE REMEMBER" printed in blue, across one of the white stripes. At the entrance to security, one of the TSA officers going off shift pulls her work-related things in a red canvas bag. A small American flag attached to a wooden stick juts out of the corner of her bag, gently waving as she walks by. The message is subtle, yet powerful. I am stopped by security for a full bag search when the scanner detects the greek yogurt I forgot I was carrying. I turn down the option to go back out and consume it, wanting to just move through security and get to the gate. Where does that yogurt go? In a bin with shampoos, sun tan lotion, myriad toiletries... the land of disallowed and discarded liquids, born on 9/11.
It is 9/11/11 and as I pull my bag to the gate, every newspaper and magazine reminds me to remember. At the gate, the television is broadcasting live events from around the nation. Images I choose not to see, information I choose not to hear because at this time, I don't need these televised events to move through my day. A muslim woman in a head scarf walks by, an Indian man is selling pizza at an airport store, and I can hear a panoply of accents and languages around me as people walk to gates, to work, and into the arms of loved ones.
Flying on 9/11. It's an interesting, even moving experience. When you read this, you have already moved through Sunday in whatever way you chose to observe it. As for me, I am now typing at 32,000 feet, connected air-to-ground with the miracle of wireless networking.
President Obama has called for National unity; called for a day of service. We are to remember how it was when we cared deeply, as a melting pot nation, together. How it was when the wellbeing of others mattered to each of us. The wellbeing of others mattered and you could feel it. It was palpable.
I greatly enjoy the experience of meeting people on my plane trips. Today my seat mate lives in Atlanta and was in Philadelphia on business. He is a major manager over a restaurant franchise of which there are 2 in Philadelphia. I tell him I am on the Board of Health that made his restaurants list calories, sodium and fat content on his menus and we talk about how that impacted his business. Even he was surprised at the number of calories in his salads! We exchange cards and I make a mental note to pursue setting up a meeting where business owners and public health experts can talk more about impact. We are all in it together after all.
Its 9/11/11. Ten years later. The President has called for a day of service and while I understand the thrust of that, I prefer a slightly different focus. Its a day when each of us, individually and collectively, ought to resolve to meet someone new, to understand a different point of view, to appreciate a new perspective, community, culture. Democrats and republicans ought to try to share a cup of coffee and exchange viewpoints. We ought to get outside ourselves and learn something new about a next door neighbor or a global neighbor... something that underscores that they are just that, a neighbor.
WE REMEMBER. WE REMEMBER WE ARE NEIGHBORS. WE REMEMBER WE ALL LIVE ON THE SAME PLANET. What each of us does, affects the other.
This week, the incoming class of full time Drexel MPH students arrive. Its easily one of the most exciting times of each year, every year. The mission of public health is to ensure conditions in which all people can achieve good health. All people, everywhere. Because our collective well being matters, and it will define our future, together. Welcome class of 2013 - it will be great getting to know you!