Photos courtesy of Vermont Teddy Bears
During the week of September 11, certain news outlets concentrate on the run-up to the terrorist attacks and then chronicle the events that unfolded on that Tuesday morning and the many anxious days (and weeks) that followed. Still, other organizations choose to ignore that evil incident and reference it as a footnote to other breaking news of the current day. 9/11 is mentioned, but it is just a past tragedy — a horrible day of destruction that occurred in the past. Never mind that the past is only 17 years old, and still very much in the present for many Americans and other citizens of the world.
On 9/11, several very important lessons were learned. The first is that evil can exist. It’s not just a made-up story to scare people in darkened movie theaters or to make folks walk the straight-and-narrow path. Evil isn’t a concept. It’s an actual, tangible, physical presence. It was very much alive on that September day. The other lesson that was prominently on display was just how much good there existed in New York City and its environs. As a person who was there in NYC on 9/11, stranded and scared as the hours stretched on and we were not allowed to leave the island, I witnessed fellow New Yorkers helping one another, caring for one another, and striving to do what was best for each other. Anyone who tells you that New Yorkers are rude and selfish, send them my way! I’ll give them an earful … in a polite and well-mannered way, of course.
Among the bravery and the compassion that we regular folks displayed, there were also exhibitions of courage and altruism that is really not calculable. While the Twin Towers stood burning, simmering, and sending smoke signals into the clear blue sky above, firemen and policemen arrived en masse on the scene. As the rest of us tried to exit Manhattan, these individuals headed to the World Trade Center site and geared up for search-and-rescue. It was a fool’s errand. There would be no souls saved, and the uniformed personnel that arrived, as the cavalry would in days gone by, were all met with their own destruction. The Twin Towers collapsed, killing all beneath its weight, tombing all inside its rubble and flames.
Seventeen years after that world-shattering attack at the WTC, the heroics of the first responders have become the stuff of legend. Movies have been made about some of the real heroes of that day, and other films explore its impact in a highly fictionalized re-telling. It was during that day of 9/11, and the days that followed, I began to think of first responders in a different way. First responder could ultimately mean last reaction. By arriving first on the scene — particularly such a massive and tumultuous one — first responders are putting their lives on the line. Their first response is to help and to assist; sadly, it might add up as their last mission.
Vermont Teddy Bear has always had a great connection to the heroes of 9/11. Many of its themed bears focus on public-service occupations and the everyday heroes who perform them. They have excellent representations of firefighters, police, soldiers, doctors, and medics, all rendered as ursine characters that boast different color fur. There are dark brown ones, light honey, white, beige: a spectrum of color possibilities that actually reflects the real-life rainbow of men and women who don the uniforms and answer the call of duty. The VTB bears are huggable versions of the first responders that try to make sense out of the senseless. These are the people who have to confront evil and hope that their good work conquers the viciousness that the world can sometimes unleash.
Honoring the first responders was on everyone’s mind post-September 11, 2001. Charities sprang up to raise money for the survivors, the widowed, the orphaned, the displaced, and the distraught. Now, bearing down on 20 years from the atrocity, the sentiment has lessened. Many people have forgotten; many people don’t want to remember; worst, there are children today who have never been told about the 9/11 attacks. To them, it is as ancient as any battle fought by Spartans in Greece or a presidential assassination at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. There are teens and tweens who view 2001 as ancient history. They don’t know it; they’ve not been taught it.
The corporate team at VTB has not allowed the passage of time to diminish their respect for the first responders of America. They have their Big Hero, Little Hero Program, which is created to assist children — the most vulnerable people among us — during times of crisis. The dynamics of the program are simple: every time a person buys a Little Hero teddy bear, VTB will donate a Little Hero to a first-responding unit.
Founded a year after 9/11, the Big Hero, Little Hero Program has been around since 2002. In its 16-year span, it has done a remarkable service. More than 20,000 of the bears have been distributed to first responders (police, fire, rescue squads) all across America. These tiny teddies provide comfort and kindness, a tangible friend to cuddle and to love, when tragedy strikes a child and his or her family.
The terror of 9/11 has spawned much fear and anxiety, sadness and vulnerability. People who travel on planes, visit big cities, and attend large crowded events have never felt at total peace since that day. Their innocence and complacency were ripped away.
For first responders, that was a day that amplified the danger and the frightening unknown that can greet them on any single workday. They are Big Heroes. They do take big risks. The VTB program is a way to honor these men and women who are responding first to moments of tragedy and insecurity every day of the week. If we are fortunate, we will never again experience a cataclysmic act like 9/11’s terror. But even if we are eternally safe from such coordinated evil, we still live in a world fraught with danger.
The Big Hero, Little Hero Program is a way to give a young child a sense of peace and normalcy when her home has burned down, or he has suffered a tragic accident. Vermont Teddy Bear should be applauded for its generosity and its helpfulness. In a post-9/11 world, they saw a need to comfort children, and they responded to it first. (First responders can register their unit to participate in the program on the VTB website.)