September 11, 2001. It was 9:15 and I was running behind. Classes had started a little over a week ago on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford and I had to get my things together, grab a shower, and fly across town to get to make it to my 10:00am Cultural Arts class. It was one of those required courses that, on the surface, didn’t spark much of my interest. But hey, it came with a trip to New York City, the cultural mecca of the world!
Little did I realize how important a role this class would play in my life and how I’d still think back to it even today.
I got in my ’95 Chevy Lumina. This car had come bequest to me after my Dad got a new company car. It was fully decked out with a bitchin’ tape player…something a friend and I remedied by installing a second-hand CD player that didn’t fit, but still played music on our generation’s music platform of choice. The biggest issue: Occasionally, said CD player liked to spit CDs back at me.
I pushed in System of a Down’s ‘Toxicity,’ only to have it come right back out as I started down the road. As I was pushing the CD back into its home, I caught a small radio clip that said, “The World Trade Center has been attacked….”
I pushed the CD back in and as Prison Song started to riff, I sat back for a moment and said, “Wait, what?!”
I frantically reached for the radio button to return to the broadcast, learning like so many did on that morning how our nation had succumbed to an unspeakable act of terrorism.
My car and I made it to campus and as I walked amongst my fellow students, no one knew what to say. At this point, what could we say? It was all speculation. I made my way to the Commons building in an attempt to put a visual with the audio. I knew I’d be late for class, but this couldn’t wait. As I watched with dozens of others huddled around a single news broadcast in stunned silence, I couldn’t help but wonder if the worse had passed or was yet to come.
Cultural Art class with Dr. Stuckart went on just as the lesson plan dictated. One student asked if he had seen what happened, to which Dr. Stuckart’s reply was short and sweet: Yes.
I remember leaving class that day wondering how anyone could turn such a blind eye to what just happened. And it took several years of growing up and maturing to find the answer: At that point, the incident was an hour old. What good did it do to speculate and go off-schedule when NO ONE had answers?
Fast-forward to class on September 13th, where more information had surfaced about the heinous attacks of Tuesday morning. Today was the day to talk about it. Today was the day it became clear to me the objectives of Bin Laden and his minions had taken hold of a small classroom in northern Pennsylvania and I’d kick myself the rest of my life if I didn’t speak up.
Naturally, the discussion of our class trip to New York was called to the forefront. It was a subject open to debate simply because of the unpredictability of events to come following Tuesday’s attack. In no way am I against someone utilizing their rights to freedom by saying they’d rather not go. But what struck a chord with me that day was a voice from the back of the room saying we shouldn’t go to New York City “out of respect.”
Respect? For whom? The assholes who just ran two airplanes into the world’s most recognizable skyscrapers, the Pentagon, and the infamous Flight 93 that didn’t make it to its destination, taking hundreds upon hundreds of innocent lives while, at the same time, shaking the very foundation on which we live our daily lives?
Not a chance. Although I can’t remember my diatribe verbatim, I remember the high points.
“This isn’t a question of respect. This is a question of giving the terrorists what they want. If we cancel our trip, they win. They accomplished their mission. They instilled fear. And I’ll be damned if I’m letting these people ruin our plans. We go.”
If we all get 15 minutes of fame in this lifetime, I used up two or three of mine in that classroom that morning. Because the response was astounding. I had students thank me for speaking up. Dr. Stuckart pulled me aside later that afternoon in the quad and thanked me. I explained I wasn’t looking for thanks…I just voiced what I believed. I knew it was right to say, and I like to believe it saved our trip.
Three weeks later, we went to New York. We all were humbled at the site of Ground Zero. We visited museums and art galleries and spent time with each other in Times Square. We did what we were scheduled to do. And our lives became better because of it. And I’m proud to say an act of terrorism did not dictate the course of our weekend.
We all have our attachment to the attacks of 9/11, and in no way does mine come close to the acts of heroism that surfaced from that fateful morning. We all lived a piece of history that forever changed the way our world operates. When the odds seem unfavorable to something that catastrophic ever happening again, what transpired that Tuesday morning has permanently instilled the thought of “Maybe…just maybe.”
10 years later, as I look back, I think about all that’s happened that weren’t even thoughts in my mind at the time. I had yet to REALLY live. I had yet to grow and mature. I had yet to hold my daughter, and I had yet to create thousands of lifelong memories with friends and family that shine vibrant to this day.
As you take a moment to look back today and beyond, never, EVER forget the sacrifice of those heroes, dead and alive, who wove themselves into the fabric of society through their selfless actions. For some of us, there are connections to the events that led to the loss of loved ones. For others, the lone connection lays in the fact that it brought people together to rise up against those who look to steal our liberties away. For me, it was a chance to spit in the face of terrorism and take away their satisfaction, even if on the smallest of scales.
Our world changed on September 11, 2001. Ten years forward, never forget. We will never forget.