It seems almost inappropriate to continue the remainder of my day without taking time to reflect on the meaning of today. For most people, no matter how young you are, you can remember exactly what you were doing on 09/11/01. For those who were too young to remember, the true impact of 9/11 may have not been realized at that exact moment, but the world they live in has been forever changed since that day. While there have been many innovations in the safety and security in the United States, we are still reminded daily of how we still take some things for granted. The latest example was the “overtaking” of GoDaddy.com by “hackers” yesterday, leaving millions of people without access to their own websites and those of others. It reminds us that no matter how safe and secure we think anything is there will always be people that will find a weak spot and take advantage of it.
Before 09/11/01, people walked freely through airports, office buildings and government buildings did not even half a third of the security measures they have now. Americans took the fact that being a member of the most civilized and accepting country in the world was just as vulnerable to acts of terrorism as any other country. Of course, this was not the first incident that America experienced that was a direct attack on the safety and security of our daily lives. 09/11/01 was not the first time that the World Trade Center had been targeted. On February 26, 1993, a box truck full of over 1,300lbs of explosives was detonated in the underground parking area below the North Tower of the WTC. During their testimony, those responsible admitted that their intentions were to demolish the North Tower and cause it to take down the South Tower in the process, potentially killing thousands of people. While it did kill six innocent people and injured more than a thousand others, luckily their grand plan failed. While this plan was unsuccessful for the terrorists, little did Americans think that they would go to the level they did on 09/11/01 to carry out their original plans.
Living in the Cleveland area on 09/11/01 proved to be a reality check for the events of that day, even though New York City is almost 500 miles and an eight-hour drive away. For those people such as myself, the involvement of Cleveland in the 09/11/01 events made it even more real. The events had a profound effect on me, and why I know that I will never forget that day. Since Cleveland is in the same time zone as New York, the events of 9/11/01 were already underway while I was driving to work. Arriving at work at my normal time, I started my day as usual, opening the car lot for the day getting ready for another workday. This was quickly interrupted as my boss frantically entered our office, turned on the small television we kept on a file cabinet, only to see the second plane hitting the second building of the World Trade Center. At that point, it was still hard to imagine it was actually happening. While the rest of the employees arrived at work, unaware of what was going on in New York City, we gathered them all together in the parking lot to tell them that they could go home, pick up their kids and significant others and just take the day off. As I do not have any children, and my former spouse was at work as a security officer at an aircraft landing gear manufacturer that was on lock down, I opted to stay at work. I also lived in close proximity to the airport, so at that point, security had been established and for a time, going home was not even an option.
My boss decided to stay with me as well, which at the time I really appreciated. As it was a beautiful weather day, we chose to move a few chairs outside with the television and spend our day of uncertainty glued to the happenings of the day. It was only a few minutes after all the employees were gone that my boss frantically called me over with “hey, look at this”, while shielding his eyes while pointing to and staring at the sky. What I saw will never leave my memory I am quite sure. We stood there in utter horror, watching a commercial aircraft do a full U-turn in the sky. The clear skies allowed perfect visibility as a large commercial plane may a perfect “U” in contrails up in the sky. Approximately 20 minutes later, newscasters announced that a plane had crashed in Shanksville, PA after making an abrupt change of direction near Cleveland. There were no words exchanged between my boss and I that I can share, but what was sure is that fact that our lives changed forever that moment.
While most people only experienced what they saw on television that day and the days since, the profound events still changed people. No longer did we as Americans feel “safe” in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. The world as we knew it changed, forever. What did remain the same, and even strengthen was the unity of the American people and the respect they have for one another. People unselfishly put their own lives in jeopardy to help save people they knew, and people they did not know. The fireman, policeman, paramedics and first responders were just “doing their job” as they looked at it, not knowing that for some of them this would be their last day on earth, or the last time they would see some of their friends and co-workers alive.
As you go on with your day today, take a minute to do something for someone else, a friend, a neighbor, even a stranger that you would not normally do. Whether it is something simple as just waving a hand or saying hello to a neighbor you do not see often, or taking a friend to lunch “just because”. There are no guarantees in life and no matter how safe we feel there is always someone or something out there that can potentially change our world in just a moment’s time. The events of 09/11/01 changed the lives of not just Americans, but the world, in a matter of a few minutes. It only takes a few minutes to change someone’s world forever, so take a few minutes today to change someone’s life in a positive way.