I awoke on the 4th floor of Hatch Hall at the University of Columbia, Missouri on 9-11-01. Before I could buy my way completely out of my last dream, a burning high rise building was on the television screen. I can’t forget how small that television was in our dorm room. I shared it with a good Lee’s Summit native in Justin Clark.
He hopped down suddenly, and the floor kick led me to come to pretty fast. The imagery on the television looked like the action scene from James Cameron’s “True Lies” or the latest Michaey Bay blow-it-all-up monstrosity, but painfully it was neither. The burning was real. America was on fire, and Mizzou suddenly became a beacon for comfort and introspection. The Hatch Hall entertainment room television, like every other dorm room across the world, worked overtime that night. Eyes couldn’t stop watching its play-by-play.
The news only got worse. Two planes crashing into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, and another flying hard and fast into The Pentagon. There was a plane down in Pennsylvania that could have been headed for the nation’s capital. Lives lost in the crashes, collapses, and overall catastrophe of an otherwise beautiful Tuesday afternoon.
Summer was taking its final swings, before the world went to hell. September is when the grass starts taking longer naps and the leaves begin changing colors-or maybe that’s all in my head. The imagination was where many went that day. After watching just under 3,000 people die inside two hours, few minds were ready for class.
Some may have wanted to fight, but I drifted away from that madness. Families had been torn apart, others were waiting in line for the worst, and enough tragedy had taken place on one day for all the blowhard testosterone drama to cease for the day. Somehow, I managed to get clothes on and over to class. Psychology 101. Oh shit on a thunder stick, I was so ready to probe the mind. New York was still burning and even the professor, kind and soft-spoken, told us nothing else needed to be learned today.
I wanted to call my parents. Cuddle with the family dog. Escape from the world that had suddenly become too dark. As a movie-infatuated 19-year-old, I had indulged in plenty of doom and gloom. I knew what it looked like. But all of that took place at the theater, where credits follow any violence. A long scroll of names meant to comfort you with the fact that 99% of them are most likely still living.
9-11-01 was no damn movie. 19 years later, the effects haven’t diminished. And I didn’t lose a single close family member or friend in the terrorist attack. Not one. I wasn’t even close to New York. My sky was somehow still blue, holding off against the dark of night. A nightmare had arisen, bringing enough tragedy to stuff a few years with. Before anyone could point fingers at who and why, everybody just stood in shock.
You don’t have to experience the loss from an event like that; you feel those as a nation, like a body shot you didn’t see coming. I know we are all going to die at some point, that none of us are making it out of here alive and well. But you can see a lot of things coming, some even the variety you’d love to miss completely.
Last summer, after I was finished with a press junket, I found time to ride over to the 9/11 Memorial. Coming into the airport, it stared up at me like a bad day would while wearing a three-piece suit. My bags were packed and I was ready to go, but I told the Uber to drop me in a different spot first.
As I approached the waterfalls, which are located exactly where the towers were, you could feel the emotion overtaking you and the feet started working slower. It’s like walking into a hopeful church: Plenty of good and bad had taken place here. It was where I stood that humanity got knocked down, and then got back up. Ground Zero was the rise and fall. New York, known as the Mecca of America, no longer looked dark on that mildly warm June day in a cozy-looking 2019. I just saw remembrance and compassion.
Compassion to me is simple. It’s giving a damn about others, taking that extra leap or reach to understand someone else’s pain. You don’t live in the skin, but you can still place an arm around it. I saw a lot of that on September 11, 2001. I saw more of that than the crashing and death.
But somehow, humanity has gotten darker again. People don’t help each other as much, as if a catastrophe is required for the world to understand that love is stronger than hate. In the near two decades since this country’s greatest attack, we don’t stand united at all. More like a painful divide that only grows in stature with each passing month.
9/11 of all things brought people together. We’ve grown apart since. Perhaps, and this is where I ask for some magic, this constant reminder of our worst day can push us back together.
Maybe. Possibly. We shall see. All of it.
Thanks for reading and stay safe,