I Didn’t Feel Brave At All: A First Responder Remembers 9/11

With Featured Guest

Mike Cortes

Attacked • Intentional • Repurpose

Top Takeaways From This Episode

  • It’s important to work together to build a healthier, more loving, welcoming, and accepting community.
  • We think we’re given 75, 80, 90 years to live, but our time is never guaranteed.
  • We’re all going to have different views, but we can love each other. We can find common ground. Start with a conversation.
  • Everybody remembers exactly where they were and how they felt on the morning of September 11. We all experienced that trauma together.

20 years ago, the world changed forever. The attacks of September 11th took the lives of thousands and forever altered the lives of millions all over the world. Today, we honor the victims and the heroes of the tragedy.

Remembering The Morning Of September 11, 2001

On September 11, 2001, Mike Cortes was a young firefighter in New York City. A recent graduate of the fire academy, he joined the New York City Fire Department just months prior. Remarkably, Mike wasn’t on duty that morning even though he’d been previously scheduled to work. The day before, Mike had switched shifts with a buddy. 

First Hearing The News

Mike learned of the first plane’s impact just like most of us, while watching TV. He was on the phone with his father when the second plane struck and it was then clear, America was under attack. 

Undoubtedly in shock, his instincts and training kicked in. While the general population ran for safety, Mike and hundreds of other first responders bravely ran towards the unknown in the hopes of saving as many people as possible. The events about to unfold were, seemingly, impossible. No one could have predicted what would happen next.

Searching For Survivors

Mike, alongside hundreds of first responders and community members, dug through debris in search of survivors. He described the scene as a pile of “junkyard wreckage about eight stories tall.” There were steel beams twisted like ribbon. Destruction and devastation were everywhere. For hours, days, and weeks, they dug in hopes of finding anyone who had become trapped when the towers fell. There was still hope they would find survivors. It’s a horrific scene forever burned into the memories of those who were there that day and everyone who watched, in horror, from all corners of the world.

Together In Unity

The events of September 11, 2001, changed the world. Nothing is the same as before and the devastation will forever impact our nation. But, Mike hopes that by sharing his experience, you’ll cling to the humanity he experienced in the days following the attacks. 

Mike recalls that it didn’t matter who you were or what you looked like; all people joined together in unity. A universal desire for community overpowered all else. We came together as a nation in an almost indescribable way. We found a common ground as individuals and embraced the importance of a deeper unity. Mike urges us to remember that unity. He implores us to be as one, to support each other, to embrace each other, and to live in light and love rather than anger and hatred. Mike show’s us the power of healing and growing from trauma.

Most of us remember where we were on September 11, 2001. There’s no denying that day and those that followed have changed us. Today we remember the lives lost. But we honor those lives by celebrating their legacies and loving one another. 

Mike urges us to remember that unity. 

He implores us to be as one, to support each other, to embrace each other, and to live in light and love rather than anger and hatred. Mike show’s us the power of healing and growing from trauma.

Resources Mentioned in Mike’s Interview:

World Trade Center Health Program

Brene Brown’s Books

The story of Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11

Remembering and honoring Jimmy Pappageorge, the friend who lost his life after switch shifts with Mike. Click here to read about this American Hero. 

Giving is Good

Mike wholeheartedly supports the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. This organization supports the families of military personnel and first responders who are lost in the line of duty. Founded in honor of a firefighter lost during the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, Tunnel to Towers provides various support programs to meet the needs of those lost or seriously injured. Programs include the Smart Home Program, Fallen First Responder Home Program, Gold Star Family Home Program, and a variety of other community support programs.

"We're all going to have different views, but we can love each other. We can be American together. We can find common ground."

- Mike Cortes

Meet your Host, <em style="color:teal">Heather Vickery<em>

Meet your Host, Heather Vickery

Heather Vickery is an award-winning business owner and global leader with over 20 years as an entrepreneur. She leverages her entrepreneurial skills and expertise to coach individuals towards greater personal and professional fulfillment by helping them leverage their fear into intentional bravery. Heather says “When we choose bravely, on purpose, we choose bigger, have bigger successes and it’s contagious” A celebrated public speaker, Heather inspires audiences and empowers attendees with the tools they need to live bold and successful lives through creating balance, time management, mindfulness, as well as countless systems, strategies, and boundaries. She’s the author of Gratitude Journal: Shift Your Focus and Grow Grateful: A Gratitude Journal for Kids and Families. Heather is also the host and executive producer of The Brave Files Podcast.

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