I got up as usual to get ready for class, unaware that the world was changing even as I showered and got dressed. I got in my car to drive to campus. Instead of tuning the radio to one of the usual music stations, I tuned it to the local NPR station because I thought I needed to be more up to date on current events. I did not realize how much that simple decision, made just that morning, would change my life.
I was on Third Street in Maryville, MO, trying to find a place to park near campus, when I first heard about any planes crashing (incidentally, I heard about the one that crashed into the Pentagon before I heard about the ones that hit the twin towers). I parked and continued to listen to the shocking news, too dumbfounded to do much else. I think this was around 8:30 or so. At some point, the soon-to-be-graduating student in me forced my body out of the car and onto class.
Classes weren't cancelled that day. I remember thinking it odd at the time, when something that horrific and momentous had just happened. It is possible that the decision-makers just couldn't get the word out in time, since many classes were already in progress as the astonished world listened to the reports of unfolding events. As I look back, I think it just as likely that they realized students and professors alike would need a chance to gather to talk, to discuss, to try to make sense out of what was happening. Perhaps more than ever, we would need this kind of connectivity. I don't think a lot of actual book-learning took place that day- at least, it didn't in most of the classes I had. But I do remember my creative fiction professor had us freewrite about the events transpiring for about 15 minutes. (I wish I knew where that paper was- I know I still have it somewhere...)
I remember that I was more panicked about the attack on the Pentagon than I was about the twin towers. The reason for that was because I felt the plane crashing into the Pentagon was intended to be both a literal and symbolic attack on the core of our nation's defenses. I felt that it was the terrorists' way of adding insult to injury. I somehow felt so much more vulnerable, so much more threatened and helpless, with that knowledge.
I remember the fear. I remember being afraid for my friend, Rebecca, who was serving her mission in New York City at the time. I remember hoping, praying that she was unharmed by what hat happened. I think I even tried calling her parents or her sister, Esther, to see if they had yet heard anything from her.
I remember later that evening, after watching yet another news reel on the day's events, after seeing some of the footage of the damage to the Pentagon, feeling oddly somewhat relieved because it had not been extensive as I had feared. In fact, that footage gave me hope, almost like we had somehow managed to defy the terrorists' attempts to destroy our defenses- we were still standing; we were still going to be strong. And while I had never doubted my faith in God, I felt a surging renewal of my faith in Him. I felt that this was His way of reminding me that, despite the tragedy of all that had occurred that day, He was still there- He was still in control, and He would find a way to use even tragic events to bring people closer to Christ.
10 Years Later...
Saddam Hussein is dead. Osama bin Laden is dead. We have gone to war against terrorism and nations that support, directly or indirectly, terrorist groups. We are still at war with some of those nations. Gas prices have gone up significantly, never to be so low again. Airport security has significantly increased (though at least, by now, most airports have managed to establish a sort-of rhythm or flow that minimizes the petty inconveniences), as have tickets prices for flights in general. We have elected our first black President. We have gone through major economic crises. We have reverted to indulging in petty bickering about ultimately trivial things. Many people have turned away from God because of what happened on that day, but I think many more have turned to Him. We have seen so many changes, bad and good.
One thing, though, has not changed, and never will:
"God is not dead, not doth He sleep;/ The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,/ with peace on earth, good will to men." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I was impressed with how the tragedy of 9/11 brought so many of us together as Americans, as brothers and sisters under the same flag. I loved the unity we shared for a time, the solidarity that helped us overcome the fear of terrorism. While we may generally fall back into patterns of divisiveness, arguing over politics and economics and so many other things, I appreciate that, for all our continued imperfections, this day still brings us together as Americans and, for a time, we are "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
I honor the memory of those innocent who died that day simply because they were in the right place at an unfortunate time. I revere the memory of those who gave their lives selflessly so that others could live. I thank those that continue to serve in that capacity, those that have to make the hard choices so that we might enjoy the freedom so dearly bought by our forefathers. While I respect any memorials erected to honor all such men and women, the best tribute we can give is the living memorial of our own lives, lived in such a way that we can hold our heads high with honor and respect, confident that we, too, would be ready to give our all if ever asked.
We will always remember.