September 11, 2001

September 11…sixteen years ago.  Like so many other people and so many other tragic, historic moments, I remember exactly where I was.  It almost seems like yesterday.

I lived on the West coast, so it was very early in the morning.  I was about half-done getting ready to go to work when I turned on the news, as always.  American Airlines Flight 11 had already been flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  I woke my wife up and said, “You have to see this.” A few minutes later, we watched as the second airplane crashed into the other tower.  We learned later that was United Flight 175.  I watched, unable to tear myself away from the news coverage.  American Flight 77 crashed intentionally into the Pentagon.  The South Tower collapsed, then the North.

Stunned, I went to work.  There was nothing else I could do.  At work, we were all in a daze.  Someone quickly set up a TV in the conference room.  We alternated between attempting to do some work and standing together, watching the footage of the devastation, listening as the death toll rose.  I don’t think one of us accomplished anything that day.

Photo by Austin Scherbarth on Unsplash
Photo by skeeze on pixabay

I watched as policemen and firefighters ran toward the danger, as well as other people who helped save as many lives as they could.  Many of these brave men and women are now counted among the casualties.

In the following week, America went from shock and horror to pride in the spirit of those who rescued so many to fury and anger at those who perpetrated this horrible attack, then back to the beginning again.  I was no different, personally.

I received a “stop loss” letter not long after that.  At the time, I was on Individual Ready Reserve for the US Air Force (I had spent 4 years on active duty and another 7 as an active Reservist).  To paraphrase, the letter said something like this, “We might need you to come back, even though we said we would discharge you.  We’ll be in touch.” The next piece of mail I got from the Air Force was a big, thick envelope about a year and a half later.  It was my discharge.

Sixteen years later

Photo by DariuszSankowski on pixabay

I’m not sure how I feel about my discharge, and I still get a lump in my throat for those who gave their lives and those who had their lives taken.  I wonder, though, what I would have done.  I’d like to think I would have run toward the danger, but I don’t have a basis to actually know.  I had a remarkably peaceful military career.  My dad and brothers in the Army, though, were another story.  I know they ran toward the danger.  So did so many other friends and family members, military and otherwise, all of whom I admire for their service to our country and communities.

Let’s not forget, in spite of all of the division in our society, that service and sacrifice don’t discriminate – age, wealth, religion, political party, race, gender don’t matter when it comes to caring for each other in emergencies.  It seems we understand during a crisis that we are all Americans first.  I suggest we should remember that the rest of the time, too.  On this anniversary of a tragedy that united us, let us take a moment to remember those who have given their lives (or the best years of them) in service to us, mostly strangers to them.  Let us remember, too, those taken from us too soon.  Most importantly, remember that feeling of connection with complete strangers by something bigger than ourselves.  It might then be easier to treat each other with a bit more respect.