There are pivotal events that mark every generation in time. Some generations have more than one event and some events last a while. These events are so profound, that everyone you speak to has a story. They remember. They remember the day, the time, the feel, what they were doing, where they were. They remember the impact it had on their lives and how the world was changed by a point on a timeline.
For my great grandparents, the events of WWI and the Great Depression spanned many hard years interspersed with years of joy. For my grandparents, it was WWII and the rise of Communism. For my parents, it was Vietnam, walking on the moon (my mom tells a story of where she was precisely as this event occurred), the oil crisis, MAD and the fall of the Berlin Wall. For me, while I remember the fall of the Wall, the events of September 11, 2001 will forever be seared in my memory. That was a day that caused a tremendous shift in my life. A day I will never forget.
Flashback to early 2001. I was working as a teacher in a local high school. I was not married, didn’t have kids, and while my family was nearby, I have always had a bit of an adventurous spirit (I am sure you are surprised by this revelation) and decided to join the Army. That probably isn’t where you thought this story was going….but it’s true. As a 25-year-old, I enlisted in the Army and my ship out date was September 11, 2001. I signed my paperwork in March 2001 with a “delayed” entry – I wanted to finish teaching and work one last summer in Maine – then I was headed to basic training, then to become an Arabic linguist.
Plans were following as scheduled – I arrived VERY early morning to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Portland, Maine on September 11th (with my mom in tow) and in between being weighed, drug tested, measured and examined one last time before I shipped off, my mom and I watched the horrors that we know as 9/11 unfold before our eyes on the big screen TV in the MEPS lobby.
The situation quickly became critical. No flights were offered and who knew when the skies would be safe again? The phones were sporadic, reports were all over the place and panic’s arms embraced us as we didn’t know WHAT exactly was happening to our world. No one at that MEPS station had been sworn in yet, and on that morning, all the new recruits were hurried into a small room and were told to “Go home. The world has changed. You are not obligated to fulfill your contract. You are FREE to go. Those of you who want to ship out, we will be in touch”. This paraphrase is as close to accurate as I can make it 18 years later (I don’t remember what I ate for lunch 5 days ago – but this I remember).
I eventually went home and waited. My resolve was solidified. I would not run away in fear. I would not turn away from my word. On the 16th of September, only HALF the people who had pledged their word showed up. I do not hold it against those who did not show up. They had their reasons and I had mine. I left for basic training.
I won’t go into all the details of THAT adventure – and adventure it was! But I will say that the delay caused by 9/11 significantly shaped my life in so many ways. Little did I know that my future husband was 3500 miles away in EXACTLY the same situation as I and we both ended up in the same battalion and company in basic training. We were both to be linguists and the very event of 9/11 and the activities that followed for me and my husband, lead to 17 years together and two gorgeous kids (and a WHOLE LOT in between).
I am not thankful for 9/11 – I am sorrowful. It pains my patriotic heart and also fills me with great pride to be an American – there was so much sacrifice, love, selflessness, generosity, courage and commitment on that day and the days that followed. I believe my husband and I would have met eventually anyway – we were fated to be together – our love was written in the heavens for sure – but 9/11 was the catalyst for that time in my life.
I pay homage to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their fellow man that day; for those who had no choice, and for those that DID have a choice and ran towards danger anyway. I pray for the families who lost so many loved ones and I want them to know I remember those fallen and I remember THEM. I will also never forget the pride I felt as an American on the days that followed, and I will strive to BE that human every day; to personify sacrifice, love, selflessness, generosity, courage and commitment.
For so many reasons, I WILL NEVER forget.