September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001 – A Personal Reflection
I was just a couple of weeks into my senior year at Walker High School in Jasper, Alabama on that Tuesday morning. When I woke up there was nothing special or unique about it. It was beautiful. The sun was shining, the skies were clear, and I got into my silver ’96 Ford Probe and drove to school. My first class of the day was in our high school’s theater, and as I entered that morning all of my classmates and closest friends were gathered around telling stories and getting ready for whatever our beloved theater teacher, Ms. Brown, might instruct us to do for the day once the bell rang. At 7:45 the bell instructing everyone to go to class rang, and I seated myself on the edge of the stage and started telling my friends some nonsensical story I can’t even remember now.
A close friend and classmate, Megan Pilling, had not been feeling well that morning and had went to the nurse’s office before the 8:55 bell to start classes had even rang. Once the bell had rang I continued with my story since we really hadn’t started yet, and I remember Megan coming back in through the theater doors with a look on her face that said she’d just seen something intriguing when she stated matter of factly, “Y’all a plane just hit the World Trace Center.” She’d seen it on the television in the nurse’s office. Being a natural teenager I remember saying something childish like, “No way. You’re kidding.” But she reasserted what she’d just seen and we all took interest.
Turning almost collectively as a class to Ms. Brown, our teacher, we asked if we could walk across the hallway to her room and turn on the television. Receiving consent we walked casually into Room 23 of Walker High School that morning as innocent American teenagers, not knowing that when we walked out a short time later the entire world would be different forever.
With the television turned onto the local NBC affiliate we all watched The Today Show live and stood around. Chattering, we saw as the plume of smoke billowed out of the north tower of The World Trace Center. Matt Lauer and Katie Couric spoke with an NBC producer and eye witness to the first plane’s crash. Then, suddenly and shockingly, at 8:03 our time, as the news anchors reflected on the terrorist attacks of 1993, the second plane hit.
We watched it.
We heard the gasps over the television, and we gasped ourselves.
Every moment of that day was then eternally etched into my mind.
As I drove home that afternoon I was in shock. What had started as a beautiful day was still beautiful in appearance, but spooky in feeling. On my way home there were lines at all the gas stations and I remember being glad I had a full tank.
When I got home CNN was already on and I couldn’t keep myself from watching. My parents left to go fill up their gas tanks and I remember watching in our living room as Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of The House of Representatives, gave a few brief remarks with a large group of representatives and senators on the east steps of the Capitol Building. And I remember as he finished his remarks that group of elected officials, momentarily not caught up by party affiliation, burst into song together and sing robustly “God Bless America”.
And then I cried.
Every American will always remember where they were that day because of the way it touched us, changed us, and even hurt us.
On the evening of September 12th I sat alone in my bedroom pondering everything I’d watched over the past thirty-six hour period and I wrote a few brief words. I then emailed what I’d written to a few close friends and went to bed.
I didn’t think of what I’d written again until a week later when my cousin said it had been read by their teacher in their classroom. Soon I had people asking if I was the “Stanley D. Way” who had written about the attacks. In the post 9/11 patriotism my words ended up getting emailed more than I’ll ever know, and even being published in two newspapers that I know of.
Now, with terrible grammar, no new editing, and fresh emotion from the memories these words stirred within me, I share with you what I wrote in my room that night many years ago:
Not In My Country
How? We’re Americans. How could it have happened? Not in my country. Not the United States of America. We’re the strongest nation on the planet. We eat at McDonalds once a day and buy new shoes at our malls all the time. We’re the definition of capitalism. We’re free. But not anymore. People in Jerusalem were free once, but not any more. They are careful when they walk down the streets now. Military personnel are everywhere in the streets…Now it’ll be the same for us. Our freedom has been hit right where it hurts the most, in our economic pocketbooks, in our democratically emotional minds that have been pre-set to the fact that we live in the USA and we’re the greatest nation on Earth…
Nobody I knew died yesterday.
But everyone who died yesterday was someone I knew. They were my fellow country men and women. They learned The Pledge of Allegiance in kindergarten, sometimes putting their left hands over their hearts because they didn’t know any better, and they stood at all of those parades where our colors of red, white, and blue were marched by in front of us. Everyone who died yesterday woke up knowing they were safe because the only people who hurt Americans are Americans. They knew that they might be mugged walking to the World Trade Center, or get stuck in traffic and cuss on the drive to the Pentagon. Some of the people were flying through the most free airspace in the world, enjoying the entertainment of jets that weigh millions of pounds. I knew everyone who died yesterday. They were Americans. And I cried for them. And I prayed for them. I asked God why. And the only answer I received was a deep and heaving feeling of sorrow upon my heart.
We saw it. We all saw it. Plane #2, snap, flames…gone in an instant. Lives gone. Maybe they were the lucky ones…Others suffered the collapse of those giant architectural wonders. Those in our nation’s heart of defense might have burned in the largest building in Washington…Some gave up and jumped 80 stories to the bottom of that concrete jungle…
But I’m going to tell you it’s okay.
Like yesterday when we woke up, we are still Americans.
Today it is estimated that nearly 100,000 people gave blood. God bless them. Hundreds drove hours to New York to help in any way they could. One man on the news drove from Vermont so he could support the rescue efforts. And that Vermont man moved concrete and steel in a bucket all day long, from dusk till dawn. God bless him. He is the true and living spirit of America.
We united today in a way we have never united before. We united as true compassionate people. There were no political, racial, economical, religious, or unfounded divisions. And maybe, just maybe, for the first time ever we united fully in an emotional way as The United States of America. And for those of us with that yearning in our hearts to serve our fellow man today, to reach out and care, God Bless Us, and God Bless the USA…Because with that spirit, even if our nation is turned into a pile of rubble by terrorists, our nation will never really be gone.
America will live forever in our hearts and actions.
Like yesterday we are still the greatest nation on the face of the planet. And tomorrow we will eat at McDonalds, and spend money carelessly like we Americans do. Because we know our best days are ahead.
It’s not in our constitution, but we do it because we can.
And we can because we’re free.
And we’re free because we’re Americans.
Our spirits will never let that die.
God Bless America.
– Stanley D. Way