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9/11 day of service, to honor a brother

By Jay Winuk, Special to CNN
Jay and Carolyn Winuk talk to President Obama in New York at an event for 9/11 family members.
Jay and Carolyn Winuk talk to President Obama in New York at an event for 9/11 family members.
  • Jay Winuk: 9/11 taught lessons about safety and making the world more caring
  • Winuk's brother Glenn lived and died for others; he inspired move to make 9/11 day of service
  • Bin Laden is dead, but it offers no closure for Winuk and countless other families
  • Winuk wants 10th anniversary of 9/11 to be the largest day of service in U.S. history

Editor's note: Jay S. Winuk is the president of Winuk Communications Inc., a public relations firm in New York, and the co-founder of MyGoodDeed, which won the designation of 9/11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. His late brother Glenn J. Winuk was a partner at the law firm Holland and Knight LLP and a 19-year member of the Jericho Volunteer Fire Department on Long Island. He died in the line of duty September 11, 2001.

Carmel, New York (CNN) -- Last week in New York, on the day that would have been my late brother Glenn's 50th birthday, my wife, Carolyn, and I were among those September 11 family members privileged to receive an opportunity to personally thank President Obama for bringing to justice the man who brutally killed Glenn and almost 3,000 others nearly 10 years ago.

That's a sentence I never could have imagined writing in my pre-9/11 life. But the world is a different place from what most of us expected it to be. Maybe, I hope, it is now a bit safer than it was the week before bin Laden was killed.

Lessons can be learned from September 11, but they're not only about safety and danger and destruction. They're about making the world a kinder, more caring place. My brother Glenn was an attorney, volunteer firefighter and EMT who lived and died in service to others. He ran from a position of safety that morning to save the lives of strangers. That kind of behavior is an inspiration.

I never doubted that bin Laden, the mass-murdering terrorist, would be brought to justice. It took longer than I expected, to be sure. But evil finds its way to the surface, and my faith in Obama's early pledge to find bin Laden remained strong.

In the hours and then days since our brilliant military and intelligence officers rid the world of bin Laden, I've been asked countless times about "closure." It's an understandable question, but the word doesn't apply. Not for me.

There is no closure when we cannot ever know what my brother's last minutes on Earth were like. Was he in pain? Was he scared? Was he alone? Was he suffering? Anyone who could speak to this, everyone around Glenn that September morning, anyone he tried to save or perhaps had reached out to for help, was murdered along with him.

There is no closure when you get to bury only parts of a lost loved one. Or when the effects of the tragedy permanently ripple through the world our children are inheriting. And there is no closure, it seems clear, for the more than 40 percent of September 11 families who retrieved no remains at all to properly bury. There is gratitude that bin Laden can no longer harm and was brought to justice and for the end of this chapter -- but no closure to be found.

I do have hope for a better world. Perhaps we have turned the tide, even just a little. No one knows for sure whether the elimination of this figure of death will result in more or less safety for the innocent people of the world. But I do have hope.

My brother's death inspired my friend David Paine and me to found MyGoodDeed, a nonprofit organization that, with the widespread support of the 9/11 community, advocated for the establishment of September 11 as a federally designated, annually recognized National Day of Service and Remembrance. The measure was signed into law by Obama in April 2009.

Now, in honor of Glenn and all those who perished on September 11 and those who rose in service in the aftermath, millions of people around the world mark the anniversary with acts of kindness and good deeds for people and communities in need. And that surely is hopeful.

With the support and participation of many in the 9/11 community, and countless others in the worlds of government, business, education and the nonprofit sector, we are well on our way to making the 10th anniversary the largest day of service in our nation's history.

In his speech announcing the death of bin Laden, the president spoke of the "sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11" and "the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people," and he noted "that America can do whatever we set our mind to." Those words capture how we stood up to evil after the attacks, how we rebuilt our nation, how we prevailed by focusing more on our similarities than on our differences.

That spirit that carried us forward after September 11 is not to be squandered and should not just surface after a tragedy. Let's make sure that 25 and 50 years from now, people remember and mark this day with acts of kindness in tribute to those who were lost. That's a forward-looking, righteous and life-affirming path forward out of the ashes left by bin Laden on September 11, 2001.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Jay Winuk.