I suppose everyone who is old enough to remember September 11, 2001, can recall exactly where they were and what they were doing that fateful morning. For my generation, the day has the same prominence as November 22, 1963—the day of JFK’s assassination—had for my parents’ generation.
I was coming back to the dorm from Spanish class at Holmes Community College that Tuesday morning when I heard some guys out on the sidewalk talking about an explosion at the World Trade Center. I was curious so I headed to my room and turned on the TV. I was definitely not expecting what I actually found out. It wasn’t some small bomb like I had imagined, it was two commercial airplanes that had rammed directly into the building.
When I turned on the first one had hit and as reports were being given, I vaguely remember seeing the other plane hit. I remember hearing Tom Brokaw saying that the planes had been hijacked and that the crashes were being called terrorist attacks, a declaration of war against the United States. I was dumbfounded: who would want to declare war on the U.S.? Who would hijack a plane and commit suicide by crashing it into the “Twin Towers”? It didn’t seem real; it seemed more like something from a movie.
Not that the terrorist attacks immediately or drastically affected me personally. I knew no one in New York, no one who was on either of the planes, but as an American, I felt the attack in my own spirit. I felt fear. Was this the first of a series of attacks?
On the morning of September 12, I remembered wondering if we were going to relive the whole thing again that day. Were the terrorists going to crash more planes today, drop bombs? Would anything come to Mississippi? As a kid who had just turned 18 about four months ago, I feared being drafted to fight terrorists on the other side of the world. I remember being completely shocked when I heard that the attacks had been waged by radicals who hate America and had an agenda to kill “infidels.”
It sounded like the crusades of the Middle Ages. I’d grown up in a bubble in rural Mississippi, under the delusion that religious killing was a thing of the past. Not so, though, not so. I remember later when a documentary was aired on TV, using a lot of never before seen up close footage of the events that day at “Ground Zero." After the plane crashed the building, the sound of large thuds could continually be heard. Though the person holding the camera didn’t aim in the direction of the thuds, he explained that people, knowing they were trapped in the World Trade Center with no chance of getting out alive, were flinging themselves out of the building onto the sidewalks below.
As is often the case with national tragedies, September 11 brought out both the best and worst in people. Some politicized the event. Some people used the event to stir up hatred. Some, however, used it as a time to reflect on the brevity of life and what unites us, rather than what divides us.
Perhaps the most poignant tribute of all to those affected by the attacks was penned by country singer Alan Jackson in his song, Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?
I’m just a singer of simple songs
I’m not a real political man
I watch CNN, but I’m not sure I could tell
you the difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God and I remember
this from when I was young
Faith, hope, and love are some good things
he gave us, and the greatest is love