The twentieth anniversary of 9/11 remains a somber reflection of who we are, not just as Americans, but as human beings.
We witnessed both the depraved, calculating evil of the perpetrators behind the worst terrorist attack in history and the astounding courage of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. We’d never seen such brutal destruction and death, followed by such decency and heroism among those in the midst of chaos.
We honor the sacrifice of first responders who gave their lives without question to save others. It’s a remarkable thing to consider, especially in our fractured, self-obsessed times. Thousands of lives perished in a single morning. The true nature of the carnage remains unimaginable. We say, “Never Again” in response to historical atrocities and “Never Forget” in response to 9/11. But as time goes on and memories fade, I wonder if we really mean it.
From the moment American Airlines Flight 11 exploded into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, nothing would be the same. A shaken city under siege grappled with the unrelenting chaos of the first strike. Seventeen minutes later, another hijacked plane, United Flight 175, crashed into the South Tower at over 500 miles per hour. Its fiery blast further horrified a nation in disbelief. The unforgettable image was emblematic of the realization that America was under attack.
The next strike against the west side of the Pentagon from American Airlines Flight 77 occurred at 9:37 a.m. Alarmed Government and Military leaders scrambled to react, with no way of knowing the enormity of the aggression against us. Every inflight plane was suspect, every landmark a potential target.
The fourth hijacked plane, United Flight 93, was en route to D.C., when it was derailed by a group of heroic Americans who fought back. They stopped the plane from reaching its intended target but were not able to save themselves. Flight 93 crashed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, instantly killing all on board. Their actions most likely saved countless lives.
The 9/11 terror attacks claimed approximately 3,000 lives, caused $10 billion in property damage, and brought down the Twin Towers. Everything just seemed to stop that day. Untold numbers of families were left with the harrowing realization that their loved ones were gone forever.
That day should never be too far from our minds, though it’s only natural for the impact to lesson over time. I think about how quickly a decade or two can race by now. Pink Floyd sang about it in their song “Time,” and I don’t think more poignant lyrics exist on the matter.
Twenty years later, I wonder if I’ve done enough with my life. I was twenty-one back then, attending community college and working. 9/11 certainly had an impact on me, as it had on anyone who vividly remembers the day. It’s a different country now, and I can sense the inevitable false sense of security returning en masse. The world is a dangerous place, and we should all be so blessed to live our lives in peace. I try not to take too much for granted, but if I do, it helps to remember those who selflessly gave all one Tuesday morning.