Sunday, September 11, 2011

Day 728 - Ten Years Isn't Really That Long

Ten years is a long time.

A lot can happen in ten years. Friends can grow up, get married, and have children. Neighbors can move on. Great things can be accomplished by great people.

A country can be forever changed in the span of ten years.

Today, as the world is aware, is the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks that took the lives of nearly 3000 innocent people, going about their daily lives in a country that no one - not even those hundreds of thousands of miles away from those streets in Manhattan, in Washington, or in that field in Pennsylvania - would imagine ever happening.

I was a freshman in high school on September 11, 2001, more concerned with remembering water and my music for Tuesday's after school marching band practice than a terrorist attack. It was a beautiful day, albeit a little warm. We were all more concerned with our lives than the fact that we were teetering on the edge of a defining moment of our generation's lifetime. We were high school students, thinking about dates and homework and the upcoming football game Friday night.

I was in Mr. Bost's fourth period health class when I heard the news. We were taking notes on proper nutrition, about lipids and cholesterol I think, when our circa-1960s PA system crackled to life. "Teachers, please excuse the interruption," said Mr. Green, our principal. Mr. Green always whistled slightly when he pronounced "s" sounds, which came through sounding like a faint high-pitched breeze passing by the speaker.

He didn't try to sugar coat the situation. Mr. Green always believed that, as high school students, we were young adults and didn't need to have things dumbed down for us. At that time, both towers had been hit and the first tower had just collapsed.

At that single moment, sitting in a darkened classroom that served as both the health and mechanical drawing room, our lives changed forever.

Teachers tried to keep the school day on as much of a regular schedule as possible for the rest of the day. The marching band still went outside and practiced our new show for Friday night's game. When a helicopter flew over the school, however, all 110 of us stopped playing and marching on a dime. It was the only time I remember that happening.

By the time lunch ended, our school was in a low-level lock down. Students went straight to class without stopping at lockers or to socialize. Hardly anyone left class to use the restroom. Teachers kept their classroom doors shut, window blinds down, and lights dimmed. At the end of the day, everyone except the football team and the band went straight home. Games, practices, and meetings were cancelled.

In the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we would learn that the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania had flown over our school before crashing into an empty field 80 miles north of Pittsburgh. Even as teenagers, we soon comprehended that it could have been us. We could have been a part of the scene on September 11, 2001, on center stage as a tragedy in which none of us wanted to take the lead.  Most of us had never been to New York City, but the reality that it could have been our school hit it closer to home.

In the ten years since then, those of us in that high school have changed a lot, as coming of age in a time of war and fear does to anyone. Some of my classmates have been to Iraq and Afghanistan and seen combat firsthand. Others have lost loved ones during this ten-year war. Others yet have gone on to other noble and great causes, but we all remember that day - the announcement, the confusion, and the end of our childhood innocence in the blink of an eye. We remember classmates crying in hallways, and fellow freshman Jesse standing at attention, playing taps on the band practice field after school that day as we all stood in silence.

So what happens now? In ten years, our country has changed tremendously. We as individuals have changed tremendously.

All I can hope is that, in the next ten years, we as a nation and a world are able to find some semblance of peace, that this war comes to an end and that we all absorb and apply the lessons we learned ten years ago to our every day lives. I hope that the families of those who lost loved ones on that fateful Tuesday morning can lay down to sleep at night and, as memories of their loved ones dance on the edges of their memories, that their loss has taught the world something about itself, about humanity, and about our relationships with one another.

God bless.