Has it really been seven years already?
Physically, I did not feel the attacks of 9/11. My eyes didn’t see the planes crash. My legs didn’t tremble along with the shake of the ground. My heart didn’t almost thump out of my chest as I sprinted for cover. I didn’t hear the buildings fall to the ground. And I never had to make any life-saving choices that day.
But, like all Americans, I emotionally felt the attacks. I’m sure you know the storyline and how it all unfolded that day. We helplessly watched in anger on televisions all across the country as two jets were used like missiles to strike the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon. A fourth came crashing down in a field after passengers heard the news of the earlier crashes and heroically tried to take over the plane from the hijackers, who were aiming towards Washington D.C. Our home land was being tested that unimaginable day as nearly 3,000 people lost their lives, but we united and thousands more became heroes.
While a sophomore at Cumberland College, I had finished my typical four-mile training run that morning before I dozed off in my dorm room, “accidentally” missing my 8 a.m. class. Sandra, who I married the following July, called at around 9 a.m. to wake me with the news. My eyes were glued to the TV for the next three hours, by myself, in disbelief as I watched the second plane hit, the first tower go down and then the second.
After I had enough of the lip-biting replays, I took a deep breath and walked across the street in a daze only to find dozens of TV sets already set up all across campus, with a crowd of students and professors watching in awe in front of each of them. Classes were canceled, practices were called off and we all just waited for more breaking news. Now, we each have our own version of what really happened that day. Everyone has a story to tell.
As it turned out, we were witnessing this generation’s JFK assassination. Since that time, I’ve been asked the where-were-you-when question dozens of times, including last Thursday — the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Naturally, the more years that pass us by, the more we will forget what took place. But, as painful as it is, it’s a day we must always remember. From those events forward, nothing was ever the same again.
I know it changed the way I view life — for both the good and bad. It also changed those people that I looked up to and those that I would later give the label heroes. Sure, I’ll always be a sports fan so I still admired Kobe Bryant for what he could do with a basketball, Alex Rodriguez for how far he could hit a baseball and Peyton Manning for a strong and accurate right arm. Afterwards, I continued to cheer for the Kentucky Wildcats. I continued to watch Monday Night Football. And I even ran a cross country race the Saturday following the attacks. Life went on.
But along the way, new heroes emerged. Those men and women that went overseas to protect our country are the ones I’m now truly cheering for. Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points in one game was small compared to the sacrifice each of them made for you and me. No matter what I think about the “war of terror” and the decisions that are made by those in charge of this country, I will always continue to support our troops. As for the people that risked their own lives back on 9/11 — the firefighters, cops and everyday New Yorkers — those are the ones we should always remember. They are the true Hall of Famers.
For me, I know 9/11 changed who my heroes are. Some of my friends have, and are, serving this country. My younger sister Melissa joined the Marines almost two years ago and is currently overseas. It’s a bit weird to think about, but she traded in her Barbie Dolls for guns and she’s now the one protecting her big brother. Along the way, she joined a short list of those people I really do admire.
Last Thursday night, I relived that day seven years ago when I watched 102 Minutes that Changed America on the History Channel. It was the attacks as they happened — unfiltered — through video and audio captured by more than 100 eyewitness. Unbelievable is all I kept telling myself as I re-watched the events of that fateful day.
To be honest, I forgot most of what happened, and now I’m actually glad I was reminded. It made me much more thankful for what I do have in a time when you can’t take anything for granted.
After I turned off the TV late last Thursday night, I said a small prayer and relaxed in my bed for a while, just remembering seven years ago and what has happened since that pivotal time. I thought about all those people that lost their lives on 9/11, and all those people that continue to risk their lives daily for the freedoms we enjoy. Then, I thanked all those people that help to protect me and my family.
And I said a special thanks to my little sister — even though she couldn’t hear it thousands of miles away.
Tommie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.