For people all over the world, September 11, 2001 will be a day that lives in infamy in our memory. It was a day that profoundly changed the way most of us think about life — and a day that took so many lives and shattered the hopes, hearts, and dreams of so many others.
On that Tuesday morning I had been in my office at a residential children’s facility for about an hour when the phone rang. The voice on the other end belonged to my wife, Michelle . . . yet there was a timbre in her tone that instantly conveyed the message that all was not well. Immediately my thoughts rushed to my then eight-month-old son, Jackson, who was in the house with her. But before I could ask about him, Michelle interrupted and asked, “Have you seen the news?”
“No,” I replied, puzzled. I quickly clicked onto a news website and saw ‘BREAKING NEWS’ in bright red.
“A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center,” she said, her voice shaking. “It’s bad, Garrick.”
I quickly headed to the TV room to turn on the news. Of course, finding the news wouldn’t be a problem, since it seemed to be on every channel. Within a matter of minutes, I, along with the rest of the waiting world, would soon discover that this was no accident. When the second plane hit the South Tower at three minutes past the hour, I remember my heart just sinking. Those of us gathered around stood speechless, in total disbelief of what our eyes were telling our brains.
In those moments the world as we knew it changed forever. Freedom turned to fear and anxiety to agony as the full scope of this attack on America unfolded in what seemed like slow motion. Within the hour another plane hit the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Reporters on the ground struggled to explain what was happening. They couldn’t quite wrap their minds around it all either.
By the time United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, I remember thinking to myself, “When will it end? What’s next?!”
Of course, my job didn’t really afford me the luxury of becoming a shell-shocked couch potato, as much as I wanted to be just that. As the manager of that residential program, I was responsible for the emotional and physical well-being of a number of children, ranging in age from five to twelve years. As the houseparents received word that the schools were dismissing children, we all began to shift into survival mode. The kids would have questions. We all did. But the one thing none of us could afford to do was let the kids know we were upset.
I met quickly with our morning shift workers and discussed our action plan for dealing with the kids and their families. Above all, the plan involved channeling our adrenaline into positive thoughts and actions. Somehow on 9/11 the world seemed a whole lot smaller . . . a lot more connected . . . and a lot more caring.
As I went to the store that day, I couldn’t help but notice that every single person I encountered — from the customers in the parking lot to the cashier behind the register — was feeling much the same as me. I couldn’t wait to go to bed that night. I think something inside of me thought that maybe if I could just get to sleep, then when I woke up I’d realize that the chaos of that day had been nothing more than a bad dream. As I would find out on Wednesday morning, it was an absolute nightmare — a national one with far-reaching implications for every person on the planet: Evil is real, and there’s no way to escape its influence in our lives.
Now ten years later, I look back on 9/11 and feel things much the same that I felt on that very day. As I reflect on that dark time in our nation’s history, one thing stands out perhaps more than any other. In the few days following 9/11, people were nicer . . . friendlier . . . more grateful for the little things. In those times people turned to the church for comfort, for solace, and for answers to questions the world couldn’t seem to explain.
Like a person who suddenly lost a neighbor or friend, the whole country was made fully aware of the fragility of life, the uncertainty of tomorrow, the amazing lack of control we have over so many things. As we remember 9/11 and pray for those whose lives were irrevocably changed due to the evil plans of a few, wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow recapture that appreciation for life we all had once the fires were extinguished and the dust began to settle?
Perhaps the very best tribute we could offer on this day of remembrance would be to again hug our families tightly, do something kind for a neighbor, and thank God for the many blessings we each enjoy. The heroes who died bravely striving to save lives on that day wouldn’t want us to wallow in self-pity. They’d want us to fully embrace the wonder of this gift of life . . . to treasure each moment with family and friends . . . and to fight passionately to keep the freedom that still makes America a beacon of light today.
Surely we can muster the courage to do that. Surely.
IT’S YOUR TURN!
What 9/11 memories most stand out in your mind? What do you see as the enduring lessons from this page in our nation’s history?