September 11, 2001. Asheboro High School, Asheboro, NC
19 years ago, I was a junior in high school, sitting in my first period class. I was a JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) cadet and we were sitting in our classroom. School had just started and it was a clear sunny day. I almost didn’t attend school that day, as I was dealing with a sinus infection. In fact, my mother had written a note to the school giving me permission to leave at lunch for a doctor’s appointment. Of everything I remember from that day, I can’t for the life of me remember who told us to turn on the TV, but at some point, CNN came on, and we watched with interest, believing what the rest of the country believed- a plane accidentally hit the North Tower. It wasn’t until the second tower was hit that we realized, along with everyone else, our nation was under attack.
From that moment on, the horrors seemed to multiply and get worse by the second. The computer teacher burst into the door to tell us the Pentagon was on fire. My JROTC colonel’s son lived and worked near the World Trade Center, and when the towers collapsed, he still had not heard from him. The relief on his face when he finally spoke to his son was incredible. When I went to the office to sign out and go to my doctor’s appointment, there were so many parents in the office I couldn’t open the door. A man from my church at the time saw me and shouldered me through the crowd. He said, “Their mama wanted the kids at home, so she asked me to come get them.”
For the rest of the day, everything stopped. Teachers quit teaching and we stayed glued to CNN throughout my classes. Radio programming stopped and everything switched to coverage of 9/11. Since no one nationwide was allowed to be in military uniforms, we were made to change out of our JROTC uniforms. For days afterward, everyone seemed numb. Life was incredibly quiet. That day, we experienced the end of normal life as we knew it, and in many ways, things have never been the same again.
Present day: 11 September, 2020 19 years later
I cannot remember at what point the radio and television programming returned to normal. I can’t remember what made us stop class and turn on that TV. At the same time, there are many things I will never forget. I’ll never forget when the second tower fell and the CNN reporter remarked, “There are no words.” I’ll never forget the pictures of the crowded stairwells and the video of people running for their lives through the streets as a giant ash cloud chased them through Manhattan. I’ll never forget the President’s stone faced realization when he found out about the hijackers hitting the World Trade Center. I’ll never forget David Letterman’s tearful tribute to the victims. I’ll never forget the eerie quiet and numbness that enveloped us in the days following.
A few years later as a college student with a minor in criminal justice, I took a class called “International Terrorism.” It was in that class I learned a lot about 9/11- in fact, we had to sign a waiver that if we developed psychological issues from our study on 9/11, we wouldn’t sue the school. I saw many more things that I won’t forget, and many of them, I wish I could.
Years later, as I taught at Southeastern Randolph Middle School, I would learn that a lady who grew up in the same community where I grew up became a flight attendant and was killed on United 93. Each year, our local high school honors the life of Sandy Waugh Bradshaw. I also taught a young man whose brother Christopher Jacob Levy was inspired by 9/11 to join the Marine Corps. He was killed in action while serving his second tour of duty. Today, the students I teach were born post-9/11 and will never know just how much the world has changed. My own children will never understand this.
While the horrors of that day will never leave those of us who are old enough to remember, there is a lesson to be gained from it. At this moment 19 years ago, thousands of people laid down their heads never knowing they had only hours left. None of us know how many hours we have left- we can only live while we can and love our loved ones while we still have them on this earth.