In early September of 2001, I was a 28-year-old aspiring to be a professional wrestler who had just booked his first overseas trip to live and work in Puerto Rico.
I was both excited and anxious for the adventure that was laid out before me especially because it meant I would be leaving my wife, my home, and my dog for at least the next 6 months.
My partner and I were making all the preparations, gathering essentials like protein powder, a George Foreman grill, and other various supplies that we could foresee needing for our time on island.
I was still working at my part-time job at an aftercare program in one of Palm Beach County’s less-fortunate towns, and I was fiercely attached to those kids.
I saw the importance of what I was doing there, as I was truly helping the kids build skills they could take with them out into the world.
I didn’t make much money, but I truly enjoyed what I was doing…
It was the main reason I was pursuing a career as a teacher. I not only enjoyed helping the kids, but I could see my impact on their lives.
However, while the kids were at school on September 11, 2001 – America was challenged with its greatest tragedy to date – and it would be something that changed our way of life forever.
The Morning It All Changed
I sat down that morning to my average breakfast of eggs and oatmeal – but when I turned on the TV, I saw something shocking…
The image of Tower 1 of the World Trade Center smoking.
The reporters didn’t know anything other than that a plane crashed into it. They didn’t know why or how this kind of tragedy could happen, and most of the coverage theorized mechanical failure or pilot error.
They couldn’t tell if there had been an engine failure or a mix up in the control tower at JFK or LaGuardia, but nobody was talking about terrorist attacks.
That is, until the second plane hit. As I was watching the coverage, I saw United Airlines Flight 175 crash into the Tower 2 live on the air—and it was so surreal I remember thinking it was going in slow motion.
My first thought was that somebody was going to get in trouble in that control tower…
And then the calls started coming in about hijacked flights all over the northeastern United States, and it became clearer what was going on: America was being attacked.
I sat there, glued to the TV for hours, I was dreading heading to my job, which also seemed surreal. All I could think about was being around my loved ones.
However, I had a job to do and a responsibility to try and help these kids understand what was going on, and I knew they would have a bunch of questions.
So, at around 3:30 pm that day, I found myself surrounded by 4th and 5th graders asking me questions about what was going on…
And even though I caught some blowback from the parents for doing so, I didn’t hold back the truth from them. I did my best to help put things into perspective for them.
It wasn’t easy…
That night, the nation was silent as we waited for any kind of new attack to show itself.
9/12: A Day Of Mourning… And UNITY
Thank God that, after the Pentagon was hit, not other buildings were targeted.
And when we woke up that next day, the nation was somber as they reflected on the loss of life of civilians, police, and other first responders during the attack.
But we woke up that Wednesday morning with a purpose. We were all outraged as a nation together, and, united by tragedy, we were ready to hunt for the people that did this.
For the first time in my life, I TRULY felt what it meant to be a part of the UNITED States of America.
How quickly that feeling passed…
Even though we vowed never to forget, we have.
We’ve forgotten what it feels like to be united and together as one nation, and that’s a terrible thing.
No one side is more responsible than the other…
We’ve failed together, and that’s the biggest tragedy next to the loss of life that happened on that fateful day back in 2001.
We’ve allowed our politics to separate us…
We’ve allowed ideologies to divide us…
We’ve allowed words to come between us…
And we need to do better.
We are the greatest nation that has ever existed and we need to rise to the challenge of overcoming our differences and finding common ground.
We can do it…
I just pray that it doesn’t take another tragedy for us to do so.
“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.” — George W. Bush