I don’t imagine many of us will ever forget the day of September 11, 2001. Twenty years later and the images of that day spark memories and reflections of how much the world has changed.

I was sitting in the living room of the small house I was renting in Searcy. A young college student, married, baby on the way, and the world in front of me, or so it seemed. I was finishing my morning routine and for some reason, I had decided to stay home from school that day. I turned on the news and heard in the background the breaking alerts that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

My attention was captured and I was glued to the television for the rest of the day, listening to the reports and the speculations as to what had happened. Still believing it was an accident, the narrative quickly changed when the second plane collided with the south tower. Then what seemed like only minutes later, the Pentagon was hit. I am not sure who the newscaster was but I do remember those words, “America is under attack.” As the day progressed, the news seem to worsen and those who were responsible became the focus by the end of the day.

The news and the sights of that day will forever be entrenched in our memory. The anniversary triggers different emotions each year. The following summer I traveled to D.C. and New York and was able to see the beginning stages of the rebuilding process. I have been fortunate enough to visit D.C. and New York several times since that day. I have seen the hallowed ground of the 9/11 memorial. The names of those whose lives were lost are forever etched in stone. It is a solemn place and as I took in the sights I remembered what once stood as a symbol of financial security had been reduced to memories and heartbreak.

The days after are the ones I remember most. The world we woke up to on September 12th looked radically different. Heightened security protocols at airports, the whole country on alert, and a thick fog settled in the air hovering over our lives. The sentiment seemed to echo around the campus of the university I attended.

Fellow classmates were impacted in ways that I was not, having lost loved ones in the attacks. This was a world without many social media outlets. It was back in the days when people actually spoke to one another and still had to stop and ask for directions from time to time. As the shock and awe of it all began to settle, we started seeing one another differently.

There was a unity on September 12, 2001, that hadn’t existed prior to that life-changing day. Every barrier of race, economic status, and political allegiance seemed to fall to the side. Previous labels intended to divide fell to the wayside and for the moment we were all Americans. All were victims of the events on those days. We said hello and there emerged a newfound renaissance of community. The fears about the unknown were shared and a very real sense of urgency was placed around coming together. We needed one another again.

The lessons we learned about the vulnerability of the country and about one another seem to intersect every aspect of life. We were all one. Tragedy and shared experiences typically have that impact on social groups.

Twenty years later we wake up to an America that has forgotten many of the lessons we once embraced. We forget about the shared experiences that unite us. The narratives that tend to divide us are preferred and more “newsworthy” I suppose. I know this columnist has written extensively about the social norms that seem to transform me into a curmudgeon.

Twenty years later there still remains more that unites us than divides us. What would it look like if we were able to embrace the values that made surviving those days possible? The barriers that previously existed have been rebuilt blocking the view of the days that once were. Those days we celebrated the things that made brought us together and ignored the things that made us unique. Those were the days.

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