Whether it is the firefighters and police officers who, like those on 9-11 in New York City, are always ready for any emergency, or the doctors and nurses battling the onslaught of a vicious virus, or our military personnel, superheroes walk among us every day.

As the 20th anniversary of the tragic events of 9-11 drew near this year, I found myself comparing that world we lived in then to the world we find ourselves in today.

What struck me the most is that there are those who are willing to die for us, whether in keeping us safe in our homes, or caring for us when we are sick, or fighting for our freedoms across the globe.

I clearly remember the days leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, because I had traveled to New Orleans for a trade convention. I flew back home just two days before those four planes struck the twin towers, hit the Pentagon, and went down in a field in Pennsylvania after acts of bravery from passengers and crew.

Of the 2,977 who lost their lives to those attacks, 344 were firefighters and 71 were law enforcement officers who died in the World Trade Center and on the ground in New York City. Another law enforcement officer died when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. And 55 military personnel died at the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, during those horrible terrorist attacks.

We were so innocent before that infamous Tuesday morning. Most of us never dreamed our own country could be under attack, that innocent people would be killed just going about their business.

That our nation’s capital would be at risk as a highjacked plane was flown into protected space to strike at the heart of our military power, and that hundreds of public safety workers would have to put their own lives on the line to save others.

In the aftermath, the quiet that descended on our nation, as every plane throughout the country at every airport was grounded and people sat stunned watching their television sets as the news played over and over again the horrendous events of that morning, was chilling.

But as the smoke cleared and the sites of destruction became visible, what we saw was the strength of our nation. The brave men and women who were willing to die in attempts to save others.

The superheroes who went where needed and didn’t stop until every survivor was found, everything done that could be done to save lives.

From the grief, we rose as a country of people who said we were not going to live in fear. We were not going to allow those who came to destroy us to win. We banded together and fought terrorism by not letting it cower us.

Now, we are in another battle for our lives and for our country against a brutal virus that is wreaking havoc on our families and our friends.

The doctors and nurses and all the health workers are fighting tirelessly to keep those who are hit hard by the virus alive. They often work longer hours, in what must be exhausting circumstances to save those who are suffering.

This time around in the pandemic, the battle is more difficult because they are watching younger people die. These health care professionals have to tell elderly parents their middle-age children have died. They must let wives and husbands know they have lost their spouses. And I cannot even bear to think about children affected by this brutal sickness.

Often those doctors and nurses are the only lifeline of contact those with loved ones in ICU, on ventilators, and in the Covid areas of the hospital have to keep up with what is going on, since the patients cannot even speak themselves.

During this battle against COVID-19, many of the front line workers who are exposed to the virus choose not to go home so that they do not infect their loved ones there.

What difficult choices they are forced to make. They must risk their own lives to care for our patients. Their bravery, their sacrifice is overwhelming. I doubt I could be as brave.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. That is what Christianity teaches us.

That is what our superheroes do. They rush toward danger to keep us safe, to save the lives of others without thought for their own lives.

We owe them so much now, and always.

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Rebecca Johnston is a lifelong Cherokee County resident and former managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.

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