Eight years ago today dawned bright, clear, and beautiful—the perfect September day. My family busied itself getting ready for the day, just like any other normal Tuesday. I remember curling my hair, listening to the radio reports of a plane flying into the World Trade Center. I had visions of a tragically off-course Cessna, and hoped no great damage had been done to the buildings. During breakfast, my son and I watched TV coverage, and realized that the hole in the building was much too large for a private plane. About that time, we saw the second plane hit the other tower. (I did not realize at that time I was watching the sister of one of my internet friends die; she was a passenger.) My son and I looked at one another as the reality of what we had seen dawned on us: this was a planned event, and the United States was under attack.
Unable to discern the best course of action would be, I headed off to work, listening to my car radio. A reporter inside the Pentagon described a loud noise, then said he had to get off the air. He was being evacuated. A short time later, the radio announcer reported that all airspace was being closed and no civilian takeoffs would be allowed. My college was under the flight path for planes using Lambert Field, so you could always see contrails overhead. That morning, one by one, those contrails dissolved into the clear blue sky and were not replaced. At that point, I realized how accustomed I’d become to sounds of planes. Suddenly, it was quiet.
Lacking any directives otherwise, I went to my class, but no teaching was accomplished. Instead, I answered what questions I could. My students, all 18-20 years old, wanted to know about the draft and whether I thought it would be necessary. They knew, immediately, that we were at war. Students who were members of the National Guard and the reserves received orders to make ready to report for active duty.
After class, we watched replays of the towers crashing. We would watch the same scenes, over and over, for days, still trying to process the idea that this was real, not cinematic special effects.
The rest of the day was a blur. No one knew who had attacked us, or why, or even how many planes were involved. We knew there had been 4 crashes; we didn’t know if there were more. Reporters, lacking confirmed information, repeated any rumor they heard. What we did know was that we were terribly proud to be Americans, and we grieved the loss of all as though they were our own family.
I was the faculty advisor for Campus Crusade for Christ. The members of the club sensed what was needed on campus, and went about arranging a prayer service. That day, the whole campus—students and faculty—came together to pray for the families of the dead, the leaders of the country, and ourselves. That day, the small gathering of Christians on a secular campus was the church—unified and loving. That day, we all remembered to say “I love you” lest we not have another chance.
No one hopes for another tragedy. Too bad tragedy was what it took to realign our values. Let’s not forget again—be the people we were 8 years ago today.