With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaching, I have recently been speaking with several of my friends reflecting upon where we were when we heard that a plane had hit one of the towers, how we reacted, and how our lives have been different. Everyone has their own 9/11 story, their own moments of shock, despair, helplessness, vulnerability and anger. I think in reflecting, the helplessness and vulnerability are things that we, as Americans, are unused to and I believe those are what hit us harder than anything else on that fateful day.
We had been raised to believe our armies were invincible, our cities and civilians untouchable… and until that day, they had been. Until that day, any aggression toward the United States from outside sources had predominately been directed at the military and did not have the cohesive thought and planning that 9/11 did. One day changed the course of the future for the United States, and I don’t think I am being ethnocentric to say it, for the world. For the first time since the Wright brothers took flight, no planes were flying over the United States (with the very obvious exception of Air Force One and military jets). For the first time since probably the war of 1812 did American citizens truly worry about outside forces threatening their safety. In looking back, I remember being 17, at school, away from home and getting ready to take an Engineering exam (my first exam of college) upon hearing that a plane had hit the towers. Our professors did not think it was as serious as it was and made us take the test. As we were walking out we heard that another plane had hit and that one of the towers was about to go down. To this day, I still remember the feeling of my heart almost stopping and the heart-wrenching sadness of not being able to do anything to prevent it.
We are a generation that has been raised with technology. We are a generation that has left footprints on the moon. We have explored the deepest depths of the ocean. We have grown up with cures for so many of the diseases that even 50 years ago would have killed us. We were raised with the American spirit of where there is a will, there is a way. On that day, when hundreds rushed in to try to help, there was no way that we could prevent those towers from falling, from taking the lives of thousands. There was no way we could stop the plane before it crashed into the Pentagon. And, even though we knew that a plane had been hijacked there was no way from the outside that we could stop it. Only the passengers inside could. They sacrificed themselves so that no others would die. But, what I remember most about Flight 93 is that they wanted to live, whereas the terrorists wanted to die and wanted to take innocent lives with them. I remember a saying I heard once that I believe sums up why, when all the cards are on the table, the United States will still stand tall:
“A martyr would rather suffer death at the hands of an oppressor than renounce his beliefs. Killing yourself and innocent people to make a point is sick, twisted, brutal, dumb-ass murder. We don’t need martyrs right now. We need heroes. A hero would die for his country but he’d much rather live for it.” West Wing
God Bless America and our heroes!