“Time is passing. Yet, for the United States of America, there will be no forgetting September the 11th. We will remember every rescuer who died in honor. We will remember every family that lives in grief. We will remember the fire and ash, the last phone calls, the funerals of the children.” —former President George W. Bush in a speech to the UN in November 2001
If there is an image burned into my memory of September 11, 2001, it was of the smoke billowing out of the Pentagon. At the time, I worked at the U.S. Department of Labor in their headquarters building in Washington DC, just off Capitol Hill. As I walked into work that morning, the first jet had already hit the first building in New York and I distinctly remember thinking, how bad of a pilot do you have to be to fly into a skyscraper??? Never in my wildest nightmares did I think this was the beginning of a much larger, and organized, terrorist attack. At that time, I just don’t think regular people in the United States thought like that.
A few hours later when I was able to escape Washington DC for the drive back into Virginia, the Pentagon was on the route home. As the Pentagon came into view, or more specifically as I was able to see more closely the smoke coming out of the Pentagon as it obscured much of the building, what fear I had turned to sorrow. While I knew instinctively that people had lost their lives across all of the attacks, it was the smoke out of the Pentagon that smacked me in the forehead like a ton of bricks. Everything changed for me when I saw that and realized that while I was scared, many others lost far more than I could imagine.
Later that week, I believe it was that Friday, as I drove into the office, Lee Greenwoods “God Bless the U.S.A.” came on the radio as I was passing the Pentagon. It was either perfect timing or horrendous timing, I’m not sure which. I am not ashamed to say that I lost it, I cried. The world had changed. I know it changed, you know it changed, we all know it changed. We all started looking at the world through a different lens from that moment forward. Every day as I drove by the Pentagon to and from work, like thousands of other people, I was confronted and reminded daily of the change that took place in our country and the loss others suffered because of it.
As my children are starting to get to the age where they are learning about September 11th and can comprehend what happened, we naturally are receiving more questions about this date. While my story isn’t as harrowing or personal as others, I still remember it vividly and I believe that I will for the rest of my life. As much as I believe it is important to teach my children about the history of this day, I also want to tell them about the lessons learned as well.
What I learned that day is that life can be taken from me, or you, at any moment. Unfortunately, this day is a very harsh, yet honest, reminder of that. If I learned one lesson from September 11, 2001, it is this… appreciate the relationships you have and value them each day. Work to make yourself better at strengthening those relationships that matter and give some grace to those who may fall short from time to time. I would love to tell you I am great this. But every year, on this day, I have a constant reminder that I need to continue to work at it.