First off, what a day we lived through 19 years ago. My heart goes out to everyone who was impacted by the horrific events of violence almost two decades ago. Quite honestly, that’s pretty much all of us, isn’t it? The impact to some was unimaginable, yet all of us who remember that day have been impacted in many other ways. One of the things I’m grateful for today are the crystal clear memories I still have from that day.
I was in the La Crosse Express office when the first jet hit. I still remember the conversation we had in those first few moments of not knowing what was going on. The topic of business we’d meant to discuss disappeared completely into the ether as the world paused. We asked how this could have happened, how did the pilot make an error like that, and what a tremendous loss of life in an accident. Quite honestly, the true loss of life hadn’t even begun to register in my brain.
While we tried to figure out what was happening the second jet hit. At that point we quickly started to see that something was going horribly awry. After some brief discussion I headed from the La Crosse office to the Winona office.
I’ll never forget the drive to Winona as it was possibly the most surreal of my life. At the time I was a huge fan of ESPN Radio and was listening to Tony Kornheiser. All idea of sports was gone, the only focus on what was happening all around us. The third jet had hit the Pentagon and Tony was broadcasting from Washington DC. He shared what he was hearing and seeing in a combination of first, second, and third hand accounts. At one point he was interrupted, was silent, and then apologized for going off the air as he’d been told to evacuate.
As soon as I got to Winona I remember frantically trying to open and refresh the CNN.com home page to get updates on what was happening. While this was going on I was also taking phone calls from our employees who weren’t sure if they were supposed to go into work that night. There’s one call in particular I’ll never forget as I did my best to calm him down from his panic and nervousness.
I don’t know that I watched as much news in my life as I did that day. Trying to keep up with what was actually happening felt impossible. Each story told brought up more and more emotion as the death tolls increased and the personal stories of victims were shared. As the stories of heroes from that day started to appear the emotions hit even harder.
That night Becky and I headed to the UW La Crosse campus and met with hundreds of others for a candlelight vigil and prayer service. On the way home we saw lines longer than any I’ve seen to this day for gas as none of us were quite sure what to expect next.
So why am I thankful for the crystal clear memories of that day filled with tragedy? In that day and next few afterwards the spirit of our country showed and we all healed as one, albeit for a brief moment. For one day it didn’t feel like there were differences in race, religion, economic class, or nationality. For a brief moment our society was full of love for each other, caring for each other, and comforting each other. We set down all of our petty arguments and worked together to heal. We were one country, founded on love for each other.
With all we have going on in the world today I can’t help but look to the way we all melded together as a nation 19 years ago and dream a beautiful possible future. 19 years ago we proved we could be one nation, all together, loving and respecting each other, the nation our founding fathers dreamt it would be. If we were that once before, we can be that again. As much as the memories of 9/11 still hurt they bring hope for a better tomorrow for our country. We’ve loved each other in the past, we can do it again.