Today, More Than Ever, I Will Never Forget
Today, More Than Ever, I Will Never Forget
I first wrote many of these words in 2010 and as I started to clean them up to publish them again, I realized that I needed to read them today, more than ever before. Our country doesn’t need another 9/11, but it does need another 9/12; the day when we all put up our flags as a nation and remembered how much we all had in common. Not at all like today, where we’re more divided than ever before in my lifetime.
This is my story and where I was in life on September 11th, 2001. A naive 22-year-old, wandering aimlessly down what would be a slow, 6-year path in earning a 2-year Associates Degree. I wasn’t applying myself in the least and used the excuse of working at a commercial photography studio as the reason I wasn’t finishing school faster. The circle of friends I ran in shared similar ambitions, or unambitions, but I digress.
The morning of the 11th I did what I did best, slept in until the last minute I could before my first class. As the fourth alarm I had set started to ring, I got a call from my dad that finally woke me up. He told me to turn on the TV and that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center in New York.
I quickly assessed that I’d turned on the TV right after Flight 11 struck the North Tower. I watched in disbelief, thinking of everyone involved in what I still thought was an accident. Little did I know at the time that a second plane was bound for the remaining tower and that my life would be jolted in a new direction.
At 8:03 a.m. Central Time, I watched Flight 175 strike the South Tower of the World Trade Center. It was clearly no longer an accident, I thought to myself, our planes are being used against us! The news station I was watching was busy writing it off as a freak accident, but I knew better.
Despite what I knew was happening, I slogged through my morning routine, getting ready to head out the door for class. I remember the looming question spinning thorough my head, “how could this be happening?” As I drove to school, I got a call from my friend Bryan and just as we were talking about how crazy it all was, he yelled, “Dude, another one just hit the Pentagon!” Three planes? This couldn’t be happening…
Walking into school, I saw groups in pockets crowded along all the TV’s down the main hallway, staring up at the breaking news. I continued into my classroom and grabbed a seat in the auditorium-like layout, just as my normally enthusiastic professor walked in with a terrified look on his face. He looked up at the few of us sitting there and said, “Class is cancelled, God help us all…”
I sat there, unable to move, as everyone else walked towards the door to leave. I felt hopelessly lost and even mad at myself for not allowing reality to sink in more. I eventually got up to leave and passed a TV, just as the South Tower collapsed. I stopped, transfixed on the TV, hearing the report come in that Flight 93 had gone down in Somerset County, PA and stayed until I watched the North Tower collapse.
Classes would get cancelled the rest of the day and my normal commute back home, typically with the stereo blaring, was a quiet and somber one. I didn’t know exactly what to do with myself, but I wished I could help.
In the days after 9/11, I saw America at its best, rallying in patriotism, unity and a sense of purpose. American Flags few from nearly every home, business, car and t-shirt. I personally vowed to never forget and to do everything in my power to make a difference and not let those lives be lost in vain. It was in the days following that I decided once and for all, to follow through on a dream that I always thought was too hard to achieve. That was to join the Navy and become a SEAL, a dream I’d had since I was 12. I wanted to first finish what I’d started at school and ensure that I completed my Associate’s Degree, having something to show for the years I’d spent in college. I also needed that time to get in shape and prepare myself for what I was about to undertake.
In less than two years, I was in the best shape of my life, finally finished my degree, fell in love with the love of my life and left for one of the most challenging programs the military had to offer. 9/11 affected me in ways that I’ll never be able to explain, but I feel like it woke me up, slapped me in the face and told me to quit wasting my life. I left a lot of things behind with my new direction; friends, ideals and especially habits. I used the nation’s tragedy as my driving force and I still often find my drive though it.
I didn’t make it all the way through BUD/s to become a Navy SEAL, my mind held up, but a dive accident eventually ended my Navy career. However, I wouldn’t change a single failure in my life, as they’ve made me who I am today.
This may be a stretch, but it’s the same way I think about the American Flag that so many look at with disgust these days. The United States of America may have its past failures, but they’re what’s made it into what we all live and prosper under today. To try and erase those failures in an attempt to appease those who can’t see through them, towards a better tomorrow, is a fool’s errand. I use my own adversity and the adversity our country has faced, as a constant source of strength. I still believe in America’s resilience and all that we can accomplish together as a nation, no matter our skin color, belief, or ambitions.
I will never forget…