Fifteen years ago, everything changed for those of us who chose to accept the heinous opportunity. Fifteen years later and I’m able to see differences in myself I didn’t see at the time.
I’ve frequently shared my experience of the morning the world changed.
I’d finished taking care of my horse and was walking back to my car. One of the other boarders (her mare was in the same field with my gelding) asked if I’d heard about the Twin Towers. I wondered if it was a trick question. She told me it had been hit by a plane. I decided I’d avoid her in future because I didn’t like her sick joke. As she attempted to convince me of the truth, the property owner came out and asked if we knew about the Pentagon. It wasn’t a joke. It was a horrific truth. I struggled to absorb the news, all related to me by two people who had seen it on the television, on the opposite side of the country.
I left to pick up work. My window was rolled down. I turned on the radio. No music. News. As I drove, I passed other cars with their windows rolled down. I could hear them listening to the same thing I was. Strangers on the road connected by the voices on the airwaves.
I kept listening for which airlines were involved as I drove to pickup work. The reporters wouldn’t say which airlines were involved. I had a friend who flew for a national carrier. I assured myself that because it wasn’t an international carrier, he probably wasn’t involved. The last time we’d spoken, a few weeks earlier, he was flying an east coast route. No one would release what airlines were involved. I arrived home, turned on the television, and decided to be horribly forward. I called him, excepting to reach his cellphone. He answered on the first ring. He was grounded on the West Coast. I was relieved and felt guilty for being grateful he was safe.
Something I never talked about was that the moment I heard a plane had crashed in a Pennsylvania field, and the reporters said that they didn’t know what happened, I knew down to my soul that the passengers had chosen to fight back. I never doubted it for a moment. I also think that had the passengers of the first three flights known what was intended, they would have fought as well.
I left the television on 24/7 for the first 36 hours. The second night, I turned it off, or maybe it was the third. I needed to know what was going on. I needed to be connected to the world I’d ignored most of my life.
I didn’t have a cellphone or the internet. The television was my only connection. It wasn’t enough. I didn’t like how the reporters focused on what they thought was important and ignored the wealth of information. It was years later that I finally heard about what the Port Authority did to help. It was only recently I heard about what a little town in Canada did. It was only yesterday I learned Queen Elizabeth allowed for the American National anthem to be played two days later to comfort the Americans in England. Why weren’t these stories shared?
I remember the quiet. I live 15 minutes from an international airport, and less than 3 miles from the flight path. There’s always a plane in the sky, coming or going. It was so odd to not see a single plane or even hear any, for days.
A flag flies by our front door, 24/7, for 15 years now.
I couldn’t give blood. On September 10, 2001, a new rule had been set in place. Anyone who’d been in England or where there’d been a risk for mad cow disease couldn’t donate. They narrowed the parameters, years later, but I still fall within them. All I could do was pray.
The rest of the story:
I’m able to look back now and see the massive changes within myself. At the time, little changed in my life, outwardly.
Except for an odd fact I tend to overlook. My parents had always insisted on watching the evening news “to find out what’s going on in the world.” Whatever. On that day, I turned on the news and didn’t turn it off. My parents, on the other hand, turned it off for days. They didn’t want to know.
I never saw this as significant before. Now, it’s a neon sign of how they avoided the unpleasant. I’m also able to see how I finally opened my eyes and stopped pretending all is well. For the first time, I didn’t sweep away the unpleasantness, out of sight, out of mind. I forced myself to look at it, condemn it for the evil it was, and embrace the emotions rolling through me. Granted, I muted the emotions, but I didn’t pretend they weren’t there.
I’m able to look back now and see how God took something evil and used it to prepare me for the change He wanted me to embrace. I knew the face of evil. God took me where I was. No, God didn’t cause it to happen. What evil intends to use to destroy God is able to twist to His own ends. The choice was mine to accept God’s plan to use what happened to teach me. I chose to learn.
A few months later, Fellowship of the Rings premiered. All those simmering emotions found a safe release. I felt fear that I controlled, allowing myself to feel it. I jumped at the fireworks and accepted it was an appropriate reaction. The Black Riders are scary. I laughed at the Hobbits’ antics. I cried in several places. I experienced wonder and awe and delight. I gave myself permission to feel an entire array of emotions I’d forgotten I possessed to such depths.
My need to connect to the world deepened. The internet was the next step. I started slow, with the Lord of the Rings Fan Club. I met people with whom I still keep in touch. We started online on the boards and expanded to exchanging emails. Phone numbers were exchanged. I flew to “strange” places and met people I’d only known online.
My world grew from my little room to the world, within a few months’ time.
On September 11, 2012, I again heard a snippet of information provided by the television news and immediately knew what had happened in Libya.
Every year, I endeavor to honor the day. I’m not good at it. It’s something I’ve only been learning the last fifteen years. How would another fifteen-year-old teenager respond? I’m maturing.
Reflecting this year, I recognize that I chose to change. I continue to choose to change for the better. This year, I will continue to work at being a better person than I was before. I want to embrace life. I think living life to the fullest is the best way to honor a life cut short.