What Do 9/11 and Irma Have in Common?


What do 9/11 and Irma have in common? They both had gazillions of help from total strangers.

Driven by compassion for humanity, thousands and thousands of people woosh in to help; to bring comfort, to reassure, to provide food and shelter—to share their hearts.

Here’s what we know from first hand experience from September 11, 2001 and September 11, 2017:

Fear either paralyzes people or injects them with super powers. The fight or flight response kicks in immediately when a crisis presents itself. On 9/11/01, hero, Todd Beamer and other heroes on Flight UA93 uttered those iconic words, “Let’s roll,” before he and other heroes stormed the cockpit to divert the plane away from the Capitol or the White House—knowing their certain demise—including the other souls on the plane—was minutes away. On 9/11/17, we hunkered down with two dogs and two cats near the elevators on the interior of a 6th floor hallway of a concrete condo, yet had a “fighting” mindset, when we earlier had boarded and secured our home from the projected assault of Hurricane Irma. We left our home and said a prayer. We managed our fear.

When the 2nd World Trade Center went down and crumbled, Geoff knew that he’d most likely lost his only sibling—his brother, Twig—who was at work on the 83rd floor. It immediately propelled him to consider his next step: check on his brother’s wife and kids to make sure that they were well-embraced by friends. And drive 9 hours to be with his parents who’d probably lost their firstborn son. In acceptance, Geoff recognized that there is no anger. Just an overwhelming urgency to bring support. When meteorologists forecasted the Gulf Coast of Florida as the intended target of Irma’s 150+ mph winds, we accepted the possibility that we would not have a home to which to return. And more importantly, that we wouldn’t survive either. With our acceptance on both September 11th’s, we had continual prayers in our hearts. Prayer was our constant.

“Are you okay?” On both September 11, 2001 and September 11, 2017, from around the world, we heard from friends

and family, inquiring of our well-being. Friends and family were figuratively “on call” to check in.


“Recently, the staff of the 9/11 Memorial began a tradition of placing white roses at the names of those individuals whose birthdays fall on a particular calendar date. It’s a quiet gesture of remembrance that feels meaningful to us, and seems to touch our many visitors.”

Jan Ramirez, Curator of the 9/11 Memorial Museum


When we find our negative emotions begin to rise, we immediately recalibrate with a question: “What is the reframe? Where is the silver lining here?” The reframe for Geoff after losing his brother in the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 was to make sure that triumph, not tragedy, would be his brother’s legacy. The reframe for us after Irma walloped the entire state of Florida and other states, was to know that we’d done all we could have done to prepare with what we had available to us. Perhaps Irma was merely a way for all of us to come together, to help one another, to unplug and really connect.

After any crisis, you will often find those who are grateful, especially after 9/11/01 and 9/11/17. On 9/11/01, many in New York shared stories of gratitude: why they had a gut instinct not to go to work at the World Trade Center that Tuesday morning, or those that were rescued in the largest boat rescue off the island of Manhattan. Our sister-in-law was grateful that on that morning before he left for work, her husband had left her a note that said, “Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re wonderful. I love you.” That iconic note she will cherish forever. The six million Floridians were grateful to be alive as the storm dissipated on 9/11/17. They didn’t complain that they had no power or water. Being alive was enough, thank you very much.

Of those who perished on September 11, 2001 and those reported tragically lost from Irma on September 11, 2017, it’s hard for many of us to wrap our heads around gratitude, when grief is so raw. One thing we know for sure of both September 11th’s — the ordinary-turned-extraordinary-helpers—our heroes—are always right there.

Share this Post!
Posted in

Poppy and Geoff Spencer