Twelve years ago today I was not in New York. I was not in Pennsylvania. And, no, I was not in D.C. It was one of the weeks that I was not scheduled to travel for my job and instead, the meeting had come to me! I was heading out to facilitate a meeting at a ski resort in the beautiful mountains of Park City, Utah, an hour away from my house.
As soon as I got in the car I knew there was something odd about the day and by the time I arrived at Deer Valley I was horrified; and I hadn’t seen a single image.
Throughout the day, as I saw the video and photos of what was happening, I met new levels of shock. I went to my hotel room to pray during lunch. I stood next to a coworker from Nebraska as she learned that her cousin had died at the Pentagon. And I watched helplessly as we tried to arrange for five people to get halfway across the country when every airport was shut down and we thought America was under attack.
But I don’t think it really hit me until 10 days later. I was once again, scheduled to travel for work. I sat in an eerily quiet airport lounge and watched the CNN feed cutout in the middle of a story about a plane exploding over Queens. Within 90 seconds, cell phones throughout the once silent airport starting ringing. I could hear my colleague’s wife on the phone begging him not to get on the plane. But we did.
On that trip to Chicago I decided that if I was going to be working, it would mean something. I was leaving my husband and small son at home, and it wasn’t for anything I could say would change the world. I decided to go back to school and find a career that would matter. Luckily—though I didn’t think so at the time—the economic downturn that followed 9/11 cost me my job and I was able to be a full-time student. I then went on to graduate school to study how citizens and groups can effect change in policy or public opinion. For me, that means something.
Each year when September 11th comes around, I wonder if this will be the year that we let it slide by. I struggle with the navel-gazing we engage in. But each year I come to the same realization: That day changed my life, because it changed the world. It was not the first atrocity committed on this planet, and God knows it won’t be the last. There have been days that cost more lives, and days that cost more money. But it changed us all. It brought death and destruction to our doorstep. It forced us to acknowledge that we were not invincible and that our actions had consequences. It taught us that the world will mourn with us and that for everyone who hates us, there are hundreds who stand with us.
Those are important lessons. They were paid for with people’s mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, friends and colleagues. And we should hold them close, and learn from them. As I sit back and think about what I learned from that day, I come to a few realizations (surely there are hundreds of others, but these are what I can actually point to):
1. I have never again looked at a plane flying through the air without a slight sense of foreboding.
2. I have never again looked at a fire fighter or police officer or flight attendant without deep admiration.
3. I have never again deleted voicemail without a twinge of concern that maybe I should save those words from my loved one.
4. And I have never looked at others, as I move through life, without a sense that we are all in this together. You are not my enemy, and neither are they, because what damages one of us damages all of us. We are all experiencing THIS together and we will succeed or fail together.