In the aftermath of 9-11 Alan Jackson wrote a song the major theme of which is “where were you when the world stopped turning?”. No doubt that song will be played all over the country today on the 18th anniversary of what I have come to think of as one of our foremost shared American Experiences. Most of us who were cognizant of what was happening that day will revisit where we were, who we were with and what our initial reactions were. I should state that I make a clear distinction in my mind between the experience of those of us who were not in NYC that day and those who were. It can’t be anything near the same and I don’t pretend to understand what those people experienced.
I was home for some reason that Tuesday morning. I was sitting on our green plaid couch, cutting coupons from the previous Sunday’s paper, wearing a white bathrobe and drinking coffee. These images are sharp in my mind. The color of all these items is particularly seared into my memory. I was watching the Today show when the first airplane hit the tower. It’s almost embarrassing to admit today but I had to be told that these events were done on purpose. That thought never entered my mind. My initial and very naive reaction was that something had gone terribly wrong with the electrical system used to guide airplanes.
I am a child of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Growing up, we had personal knowledge and interactions with the concept of war. Most of the fathers we knew had been in World War II or Korea. Our older brothers and the older brothers of our classmates were either in Vietnam or having their lives effected by the possibility of going to Vietnam. We sat in front of televisions with anxious mothers and brothers as the selective service draft was drawn. We saw the images of Vietnam almost every night on our televisions but all of this was “somewhere else”. Not in America; never in America.
Alan Jackson’s song describes a number of responses that people had that day but seem to me to focus on a just a few themes. Did you withdraw inward to yourself and your own small circle or did you reach out to be with and help others? Did you become a little more appreciative of what you have and value it just a little bit more. Did you curse a world where bad things happen or did you look for answers and a sense of peace from your faith?
As we all know, the world did not stop turning that day but to me it does feel like it got moved off its axis a bit. I believe that day was full of losses and oddly enough some gains for us. We lost our innocence. We have certainly lost some personal freedoms as a result. But, some of us can still conjure up the feeling of pride we had in our country and our citizens’ ability to respond in crisis. I think overall we have a better appreciation of those who put themselves in harm’s way to protect and serve us. So, eighteen years later it seems to me that it’s worth asking ourselves a similar question to Alan’s. “What did you learn the day the world shifted and how have you used that to thrive in your post 9-11 life?”.