June 25, 2008 · Updated 9:46 PM
"All our eyes were filled with indelible, horrifying images that could hardly be absorbed on first sight -- maybe that's the plus of so many networks transmitting their footage on what seemed a continuous loop. I think I've absorbed it -- highjacked airliners really did crash into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon.Something I missed in all the coverage in New York was an explanation of the people and activities that had been contained in the Trade Center towers.To hear some commentators and reporters, you'd think the Trade Center was completely filled with rich brokers and arbitragers who came in from Connecticut on commuter trains.But those of us who know New York realize that most of the people in those offices were back-roomers, many of them with names like Luis and Theanetta and, yes, Muhammad. They processed the data at the financial companies and law firms, they worked in the buildings' restaurants and stores, they ran the parking lots and heat and lights and elevators. They got to the towers every morning by subway from Queens or Brooklyn or Jersey. And they went to the Trade Center to make the rent, not make their fortunes.The terrorists may have wanted to kill rich capitalists, but the lists of the dead will inevitably include far more people who were barely making it than those who had it made.New Yorkers know that the towers housed shoe stores and pizza parlors and huge beautiful lobbies where ordinary people, some of them homeless, sat on benches under tall potted trees and read the paper. We remember momentous personal events-wedding receptions, birthdays, retirement parties, proposals at the restaurant that topped one tower and served its guests one of the planet's most amazing views.A friend described to me going to her roof in upper Manhattan and staring at the huge gap in the skyline where the towers that contained all that stood. Those missing towers were about real people and their very real lives.And what was happening all over Manhattan was --is -- what we are about. Those who were fueled by hatred to lash out at us may see us as uncaring, greedy devils without heart, without spirit. But we know we are the people who race to the danger to help, who give the injured and frightened anything we have that they might need-the support to walk down 80 flights of stairs, the food in our cupboards, the shelter of our homes, the gift of our blood, even our lives.We are the firefighters, EMTs, cops and plain citizens who go straight into burning, exploding buildings, knowing full well the dangers, offering up our lives to save others.There's a lot of talk about this horror changing us forever. How then do we choose to be changed? We can let ourselves be driven by hatred of our attackers. We can become terrified, the terrorists' plan for us.But how would we be changed if we chose to hold in our hearts the images of ourselves as courageous, compassionate beings -- if we lived our daily lives that way, not waiting for catastrophe to strike, but reaching out to each other every day that we walk this earth?Let us choose to make that the way we are changed by September 11, 2001.Ann Medlock is President of the Giraffe Heroes Project "