Where We Were When The Towers Fell

Note: Originally Published 9-11-06

Five years ago on this day I was teaching at East Gaston High School in North Carolina, just outside Charlotte.  I was 24 years old at that time.

We taught on something called the block schedule, which, in our case, meant I had four 90 minute periods a day, one of which was a prep period. 

I had just finished teaching 1st period and stood in the hall keeping track of things.  A teacher came up to me and told me a plane had just hit the World Trade Center.  Of course, I said something to the effect of it must have been a prop plane that had somehow gotten off course.

I had a television in my classroom propped from the wall and so I turned it on to see the news coverage.  I was shocked when I saw the first tower that had been hit in smoke and flames.  I realized then that it had not been a mere prop plane that had struck it.

Reports soon informed me that it had been a passenger plane that had smashed into the side of it.  The cause of the impact had yet to be determined, but I know I assumed it had to be a terrible, terrible accident.

When I saw the second plane strike the second tower live on television, I knew it was no accident, and I think most people knew it as well.

I sat at a desk in my empty classroom completely shocked.  When the first tower fell, and then the second, I moved into whatever realm exists beyond shock.

When 3rd period started, I had students ushering in and I had a choice: teach my lesson planned for that day or discuss what was happening at that very moment.  Of course, the decision was an easy one and we talked at length about the terrible loss of life and the fact that people were dying even as we spoke.  We all were very emotional at that prospect and we watched the television in a respectful silence, as did all my classes for the rest of that school day.

Of course, when I got home to my empty rental house I turned on the TV and remained glued to it for the rest of the night.  I had just come off a bad breakup and wanted nothing more than to move back to Illinois, but I knew I had eight more months to go before I could do that.  As I sat there, alone in the dark, watching the events unfolding and thinking about how long it would be before I got back to what I considered my home, I really and truly couldn’t imagine what it would be like for the people in those towers and on those planes who would never get to go home again.  They would never hold their child, their husband or wife, their friends or family, ever again.  I thought of the loved ones of those victims and what a horrible, horrible reality they now faced.  I thought of the brave men and women rushing to rescue anyone they could, and I wondered if I could ever have that sort of selflessness and courage.

Over the next few days I started hearing names I’d never heard of before in my life.  Names that now are part of are national vernacular.  Names like Al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.  I discovered that terrorists had attacked us, and I remember thinking to myself, “Why?”  At that moment, most terrorism I knew of were from names like McVeigh and Kaczynski.

I also remember the incredible amount of patriotism that flooded our great nation.  Everything took on an esteemed importance, as though we realized that every moment of life was not to be trifled away and wasted.  We were proud of our nation and we were proud of our heroes. 

Five years later things have not turned out exactly as we probably had planned.  I won’t go the route of cynicism, but I wish the patriotism that resulted from that terrible day still existed.  I have mixed feelings on virtually every aspect of our current political climate, but I don’t have any mixed feelings on the importance of patriotism.  We are a great nation.  Those willing to stand up to oppression centuries ago forged who we are today and we’ve always fought oppression throughout our history.  Granted, sometimes we took longer to fight it than we should have, and the fight continues on many fronts even to this day, both at home and abroad, but we are a great nation because the people that make our nation up have the potential to be true heroes. 

My parents’ generation always talks about how they remember where they were when President John F. Kennedy was shot.  I think my generation will always remember where we were when the towers fell.

The Importance of Action

Note:  Originally Published 10-14-07

You may have seen on the news lately the wise and all-knowing talking heads are coming down pretty hard on Barack Obama because he dared to put on a suit without an American flag pin on his lapel. 

It must have been a slow news day, for this thing blew up and he was finally forced to defend himself by saying that his actions display his patriotism far more than simply wearing a pin.

I found the whole thing pretty funny because it reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer took part in an Aids walk, but refused to wear the ribbon.  He ultimately got ganged up on by the other walkers and beaten up because he refused to wear the ribbon, even though he was actively taking part in the walk.  He finished the walk, by the way, though he had to drag himself across the finish line.

After 911, I think wearing the American flag pin proved to solidify one’s own resolve in their patriotism; it served to reassure people in distressing times; and it simply made people feel better on the inside.  Somehow, however, as the years went by we started judging each other on if we wore a pin.  And, as is the unfortunate trend, we have now exploited the pin to a degree where if a high level politician is seen without it, it becomes the main topic of the day across the news.  The original purpose of the pin has been objectified and bent to serve ulterior motives, and I find that despicable.  In my mind, that pin serves as a metaphor for far greater issues taking place within our nation.

I’m not a particularly political person.  I don’t vote straight Republican or Democrat.  I try to go with whoever seems most intelligent on the issues that I feel are important.  And one issue that is important to me is the fact so many of us, myself included, talk a big game but rarely take any true form of action.  We dream; we wish; we say what we’re going to do; we brag about accomplishments yet to be executed; yet, when it comes time to actually tally the score, few of us find that we have lived up to our own talk.  And then, when people actually hold us accountable for failing to live up to our boasts, we take offense.

I worry that we’ve become a nation of talkers, not doers.  What’s the point of wearing a flag if your actions don’t display patriotism in the least?  What’s the point of saying how awesome you are if you’ve never actually done anything?  We’re becoming a culture that praises people who have no discernable accomplishments, and then we mock those that do.  This is troubling.

This is beginning to sound judgmental and harsh, and it’s certainly not meant to.  I actually wanted this little essay to be motivating.  I wanted to encourage you to chase your dreams, to go out and make something special happen!  I wanted to get you psyched up not just to wear the pin, but also to actually do something that validates the pin!

So, what are you waiting for?  Get out there and take action!