Since I don’t have TV (have I blogged about that? There’s an idea for a post. . . ), I listened to the memorial services held on Sunday on the radio. NPR had great coverage of the one in New York City as well as Pennsylvania. As I listened, I cried quick, heavy tears. I can’t fully explain where the tears came from, but I know a part of it was more than just my sappy, sentimental self. I can cry at nearly anything involving family members losing loved ones, and the people reading the names of their lost loved ones easily set the waterworks in motion. But, there was something else. I think it goes back to that day.
I was walking down the hall to my locker at my high school, a few weeks into my Senior year, on September 11th, 2001, when I noticed my English teacher, Mr. Phillips rush across the hallway to my Government teacher, Mr. Turner’s room, saying something like, “Gary, you have to see this.” I would later learn the first tower had already been hit, since it was an hour past 8:46 a.m. in NYC. I immediately sensed that something was wrong. Perhaps it was the tenor of Mr. Phillips’s voice. The next thing I remember was choir class, and I think we watched some tv. It gets a bit blurry ten years later. I’ll stick to the most vivid memories.
In Drama class, we watched the plane hit the second tower, live. I felt disbelief and then dread. The disbelief came from the action-movie impression that crash portrayed. I truly felt like it was some sort of Die Hard movie or something. Then, I realized I had just witnessed the death of many, many people, and I realized the crashes weren’t just crashes. They had been planned. I instantly felt a rush of anger sweep over me. The injustice! Who would do this? How could this be allowed to happen? What was next? Would this be World War III?
I’m sure throughout the day we were somber, questioning, and completely unable to focus on school work. I wonder how I would deal with a situation like this in my classroom today. By the end of the day, I loaded my stuff onto the bus to head to Jewell, KS for a volleyball triangular. I didn’t feel like playing volleyball. I had thought they might cancel it. Yet, I knew cancelling it would not make as much sense as going ahead. After all, we were so very removed from the East, and it wasn’t like we were in imminent danger.
On the way out of town, I witnessed my first and last traffic jam in Miltonvale. Everybody was parked in lines around T&T Service, one of the two gas stations in town. Somehow, they’d gotten word that gas prices would go up! I remember us girls staring out the windows in awe of so many cars downtown, and, I’m sure, with a new anxiety, seeing our parents and friends’ parents acting so strangely.
At the volleyball triangular that night, I reflected on how minor a role sports should play in one’s life. Winning and losing is so trivial compared to life and death, war and peace, the past and the future. I didn’t care if we won, and I don’t even remember now who won. I do remember the time in the lobby between games. A TV was on and there was live coverage on the news of the bombing of Afghanistan. The screen showed a grainy picture of an orange glow off in the distance, shining against a dark, deserted landscape. This was the moment at which I nearly panicked. All I wanted to do at that point was go home and be with my family. Apparently, we were at war with someone and from this moment on, my life wouldn’t be the same. At least, those were the thoughts of an almost-18-year-old farm girl from the middle of Kansas.
Looking back, the ways in which my life is different are quite subtle. There is more security at airports, but that has affected me exactly five times since 2001. Many of my peers, just turning 18 and possibly motivated by the attack, signed up for the military in the months that followed. Yet, only two of those were my classmates and none of those were my close friends. I am so proud of the men and women in my age group who pursued a military career during this time. They have been fighting a difficult, technological, new war bravely, patriotically, and sacrificially. They make me proud to call myself an American.
I think the greatest thing that changed for me after Sept. 11, 2001 was that I had a new appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes in our government. People are working daily to address the threats to our nation, and they don’t get noticed for their successes, but they get lambasted for their failures. An article this past spring in Time magazine deepened my appreciation for these security officials. Reading the article was akin to reading a spy thriller, and I finished it in awe of how much we have to be grateful for to live in a country with people who work daily to protect us.