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Where were you?

Where were you when Kennedy got shot?

I was at McWillie Elementary in Jackson, Mississippi, where I was a first-grade student.

Where were you when the Challenger Space Shuttle blew up?

I was in the studio at WDAM-TV in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where I worked as a commercial copywriter and producer.

Where were you when the World Trade Center towers came crashing down?

I was at home, taking a few days off work to spend time with visiting relatives from Venezuela.

There are moments in time that mark “before” and “after.” Some are international events, like the ones I’ve just listed, and others are more personal – events in our own lives that leave a line in the sand where, before it was drawn life was one way, and afterwards, everything changed.

Prior to September 11, 2001, I had heard of Al-Qaeda, probably while half-listening to the news, but I had no real understanding of what it was, other than it had to do with the Middle-East and it wasn’t good. What the world soon found out in great detail was that Al-Qaeda is a militant Sunni Islamist multi-national organization founded in the late 1980s by Osama bin Laden and other Arab volunteers during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Life changed after September 11. Security at airports was increased, often making the flying public feel suspect for no good reason. People turned against their neighbors if they were of Middle-Eastern heritage. Violence that did not exist before became more commonplace. The world no longer looked like a Norman Rockwell painting.

Like Martin Luther King Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July or Labor Day, September 11 has become an ad-hoc national holiday. Banks aren’t closed and school is still in session, but on September 11, we all remember.

I saw a post on Facebook shared time and time again last night. I have no way of knowing where it originated or who wrote it, but its message was strong and clear. “The evening of September 10, 17 years ago, 246 people went to sleep in preparation for their morning flights. Another 2,606 people went to sleep in preparation for work in the morning, while 343 firefighters went to sleep in preparation for their morning shift. Sixty police officers went to sleep in preparation for morning patrol, and eight paramedics went to sleep in preparation for the morning shift of saving lives. None of them saw past 10:00 a.m. on September 11, 2001.”

Again, not sure where that originated, but it was powerful enough that people shared it time and time again on Facebook. According to more reputable news sources, there were 2,753 casualties (CNN) or perhaps it was 2,977 (USA Today). The fact of the matter is that one life would have been too many.

On the seventh anniversary of the assault, my family was in New York City. Our daughter spent over ten hours of that day having surgery to stabilize her back where she crushed her L4 vertebrae in a tragic fall. When she was taken to the surgical suite, my husband and I stayed behind in her Neuro-ICU room, not sure what to do or where to go. A very New York nurse came in and said brusquely, “what are you two doing in here?” Thinking we were in trouble, we started to stutter and stammer before she cracked a smile and said, “It’s a beautiful day out there. You can’t go into surgery with her, so you might as well go out and enjoy it!” So we did.

Fall was just making itself evident on that bright September day. The sky was clear blue, and the temperature was in the high 70s. We walked around the city, just taking in the sights and listening to the people. What we witnessed was a kind of kindness not often associated with New Yorkers. People spoke to one another on the sidewalk. Everyone was so nice. Some told the stories of where they were when it happened, or people they knew who didn’t make it out. I think they each, in their own way, realized that they were fortunate to have another day. The bad guys didn’t win.

That evening, we looked out the hospital window across the Hudson River. Hanging from the middle of the George Washington Bridge was a huge American flag. It seemed so triumphant, gently waving in the breeze. It was a symbol of this nation’s unity and hope for our future.

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