I’d turned on the news, as I did every morning, getting ready to go play with some sweet kids at Athens’ Mothers Center. I came out of the bathroom, toothbrush still in hand, as I watched the second plane hit. In that instant, I knew -like everyone else watching- that our lives would be forever changed, forever scarred by such acts of cowardly hate.
I sat on the couch that afternoon, paralyzed in front of the TV, praying for my roommate – who knew not if her father had indeed emerged safely after the collapse of the second tower. (Hours later, he was confirmed ok. Thank God.)
For the next few weeks, I was plagued by the TV images of these terrorists, whose faces were plastered all over the place – which was better than seeing a mix of ash and things I cannot bear to write -even today- fall from the sky.
Today is a day to reflect. To remember. Fifteen years later, just like every year since, I can’t help but let the tears roll, for the victims, for the survivors, for the heroes, and for a nation that once was. Remembering 9-11 still conjures up powerful emotions for so many of us.
Amidst the rubble, the sorrow, and the confusion emerged not only a sense of patriotism previously unseen by my generation, but also a sense of unparalleled support and outreach amongst strangers. For after such an event, we became united. We became one nation. Under God.
I remember, also, at Georgia’s first home game of the season – which was delayed by a few weeks- we paused for a moment of silence. That entire stadium grew to a silent hush. Heads bowed, many eyes closed. You could feel the passionate energy, mixed still with a charge of fear and anger still hanging over our heads, when amongst the crowd, one voice broke the silence: “F*ck Bin Laden!”
Said with a mix of anger, and a slight bit of edgy humor, as well as fear, the tension in the crowd was broken. We collectively let out a quick half-chuckle.
But with those three words, perhaps not the most eloquent choice, we moved forward. We lived our lives, while still carrying this day in our hearts.
So, years later, when Bin Laden was reported dead, I drew back to this day, this event. I know not who spoke those three words, but they resonate with me still.
It’s been fifteen years since our nation stood aghast, watching those towers crumble, hearing reports of the Pentagon being hit, and later learning of the courageous passengers who thwarted a fourth potential attack – our world changing in ways we could never have anticipated.
Fifteen years, and that day is still ingrained in my mind clearly, as if it were just yesterday we witnessed the second plane hit the second tower live on TV.
When remembering 9-11, anyone who was around, and old enough to know what was going on fifteen years ago, can vividly recall where they were that morning, what they were doing, and who they knew in New York at the time.
What amazed me most about the heartbreaking attacks fifteen years ago wasn’t the pure evil behind the attacks, but rather, the collective outpouring of support and love that emerged in the aftermath.
We watched as rescue workers from across the nation came to New York for the grueling task of first searching and rescuing those left alive in the rubble of the fallen towers, and then with the heart-wrenching task of assisting in recovering bodies, and body parts amidst the rubble and the ash.
We watched as folks worked in shifts, bringing food and water to the rescue workers. We watched as folks turned to total strangers in the street, many paralyzed in shock and disbelief at what was happening, offering hugs, a shoulder to cry on, or simply their mere presence. We watched as people posted fliers all over the city of missing loved ones, their whereabouts unknown as cellphone batteries were drained and cell towers jammed in the pandemonium following the falling towers. We watched as some loved ones emerged, letting friends and family know they were ok, and had found comfort and shelter amongst kind strangers, since they could not physically get back to their homes.
We watched the nation swell in to a powerful surge of patriotism. I cannot say for certain how patriotic I felt on September 10, 2001 – as a 21 year old senior in college, my patriotism, while it was there, was nowhere near the same degree as it was just 24 hours later.
I can still vividly remember the first football game of the college football 2001 season, can still clearly where I was in the stands at Sanford Stadium, and can still clearly hear that singular voice’s loud declaration of fear and hate, pointed towards Bin Laden with three simple words: “f*ck Bin Laden”.
That one statement of profanity proved to be quite profound for me, and perhaps for the nation, as we struggled to understand WHO it was who attacked US. As we grappled with the idea of an entire body of people who simply wanted to wipe us out, we needed someone or something at which to direct our anger. So as a nation, we said “F*ck Bin Laden.”
More importantly, however, that surge of patriotism, coupled with our sense of selfless giving resonated with many, and for years and years to come. As we, unfortunately saw many more tragic events unfold in the last fifteen years, we continued to see the bright side of humanity come out on top. Perhaps the events of 9/11 were by far the most shocking and tragic, we have since witnessed too many other acts of violence on our soil by people of our own nation, as well as tragic acts of nature. Hurricane Katrina devastated an entire city, but we saw the outpouring of help and support from neighboring states as people, now without a home, scrambled to put the pieces of their life together. We all prayed for the children and faculty who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary a few years ago. Even the heinous acts in Orlando this summer, while beyond senseless and hateful, proved another opportunity for our nation to ban together and show the world that we would not let a hateful act keep us down.
Is our post-9/11 world all rainbows and sunshine? Of course not. In 2016, in many significant ways, we are a nation divided, and a nation that needs to find a way to heel those divides; we are still one nation who -at least for one day in September- comes together in solidarity to reflect on our nation, our history, our collective triumphs as well as our collective wounds.
In many ways, those three simple words of profanity spoken by one person ring truth as our nation continues to move forward: f*ck Bin Laden, and all he represents, as we strive to continue to be a nation working to uphold freedoms, liberties, and truths in which American citizens are granted, simply by being American citizens. F*ck the people who try to rob us of that right, of those freedoms. F*ck the folks who think it’s their destiny, their duty to terrorize us. F*ck them: we are collectively stronger than they.
My hope for our nation, on September 11, is to reflect as a nation on how far we have come, both since the formation of our country, as well as in the last 15 years. My hope is that, as we remember those lost fifteen years ago, we can work towards finding peace for our nation, and peace for the ones we lost that day. Fifteen years ago.
God. Bless. America.
***P.S. There are some amazing documentaries on 9-11. Most are raw and gritty and not for the faint of heart; however, they are worth watching. Turn your TVs on today, set up your DVRs and record a few. I found a few last year on CNN, I believe. Documentaries on what typical folks were doing in New York on September 10, 2001, and how their lives changed that day. Powerful and haunting.Keep on saving! :o)
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