Ground Zero surgeon urges Americans to 'try and see the hero in everyone we meet' on eve of 9/11

Ground Zero surgeon urges Americans to 'try and see the hero in everyone we meet' on eve of 9/11
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: The 'Tribute in Light' memorial lights up lower Manhattan near One World Trade Center on September 11, 2018 in New York City. The tribute at the site of the World Trade Center towers has been an annual event in New York since March 11, 2002.Throughout the country services are being held to remember the 2,977 people who were killed in New York, the Pentagon and rural Pennsylvania in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images).

A volunteer surgeon who tended to victims of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City recalled his experience and encouraged Americans to envision the "hero" in other human beings, as the nation observes the 22nd anniversary of the generation-defining trauma.

Navinder Singh Nijher told Religion News' Simran Jeet Singh on September 8th, "We were just standing up there, watching the smoke and the debris and the paper all around us, when suddenly, the second plane hit the World Trade Center. We were stunned. No one said anything. And then, all of a sudden, everyone’s pagers started going off. And that's when I realized this was a mass casualty event. Being in general surgery meant that we would cover the trauma unit, which also meant that I would have a big role to play in the response efforts."

Nijher continued, "It was surreal, because we were coming across Brooklyn Bridge, and it looked like one of those dinosaur films or zombie films, where everyone is running out of Manhattan in panic, and we're in the one lane going into the city with police escorts."

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Nijher added, "Again, it was like an apocalyptic movie. On my way home, I saw military guys on every street corner with machine guns, especially where I was. SWAT team trucks were everywhere. It was like I had gone from one world to another."

Despite his life-saving actions, Singh wrote, Nijher soon realized that "people on the street might perceive him as a perpetrator of the terrorist attacks, rather than as one of its heroes. It wasn't long before this possibility would turn into reality. When they arrived at the store, Nijher approached the clerk and asked for his film to be developed. The clerk glared at him, and after a moment, responded curtly, 'Well for you people, it's $1,000. I asked him what he meant by 'you people,' Nijher said. The clerk told him he could figure it out. 'I was shocked, and I remember thinking to myself, 'If only he'd seen what’s actually on this film, he might have a better understanding of who I was and what I had been doing.'"

Things got worse — fast.

"It was an initial indication that his life would change rapidly. As he walked home with his roommate, that realization became sharper, as people along the way hurled slurs at him, including 'F*ck you, Osama. Go back to your f*cking country. We're going to kill you,'" Singh explained.

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Nijher said, "It was then that I realized the story of my life had taken a major turn. Within 24 hours, I went from nobody judging me or questioning why I was helping on Ground Zero — including policemen, firefighters and doctors — to walking down the street and people feeling hatred towards me and seeing me as the enemy."

Nonetheless, Nijher's optimism and faith in his countrymen were unbroken.

"Nijher believes that the social fabric of the United States was strengthened in the years following the 2001 attacks, but he thinks the same fabric has weakened over the past several years. He is particularly concerned about the feeling of mistrust that hangs over a society of people who live together," Singh said.

Nijher told Singh, "The main thing I noticed after 9/11 is that there was a sense of unity in the country. This lasted for a number of years despite other conflicts that we were involved in as a country. In the past few years, I feel we have taken a collective step back and have gone back into our individual silos once again. So much of the progress that was made after 9/11 has been lost, and I hope we can change that momentum and begin creating that sense of unity again."

Singh's editorial continues at this link.

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