Five Years Ago Today

american flag

September 11, 2001. Five years ago today. The day the safety and protection  I had always valued and perhaps taken for granted as a citizen of America vanished  in a blast of steel and glass and smoke and fire.

It was early on a  clear, sunny morning. I was driving in my car with my then  almost-two-year-old-son in the backseat, singing away to a tape of kid songs. I  can’t for the life of me remember where I was going. I’ve been wracking my brain  all day trying to remember. Maybe it is because the events to come quickly  overshadowed whatever ordinary destination I had that morning.

Paul called my cell phone: “Are you listening to the news? Turn on KYW right now.  Something really freaky is going on.” I immediately cut the kids songs and  switched over to news radio. When I tuned in, the first plane had just hit the  north tower. The news commentator still thought it was an unfortunate accident.  I was listening when the second plane hit, and I heard the horror and shock in  the voice of the reporter who was desperately trying to maintain his  professionalism despite the sickening events that were unfolding before his very  eyes.

I quickly dialed my mom. We talked while she watched the news on  the TV in her office conference room and I listened to the radio, sharing our  disbelief about what was occurring just a few hours away from me. While on the  phone, we heard of the downed plane in western Pennsylvania and the attack on  the Pentagon.

I had plans later in the day to head into downtown Philly  to visit a good friend who had just had a new baby. When I mentioned those plans  to my mother, she demanded that I go straight home. “We are under attack,” I  remember her saying. “This mess is all around you. It might not be over yet. Who  knows what will happen next. Go home. Don’t you dare go near the city.” For  once, I listened to my mother. I called my friend and canceled. And I went home and hugged my little boy extra tight.

I sat in front  of the TV all day, watching in awe and dismay.  It was determined that this was  an act of terror, unprecedented in the safe haven that always was America, the  land of the free and the home of the brave. It couldn’t be possible. And yet it  was. I imagined the terror in the final moments of the victims, the desperation  of those trying to escape the city, and the grief of those listening and  watching who had loved ones in Manhattan that morning. I was thankful our  capitol was spared, that the White House was untouched and that our president  was safe aboard Air Force One. But those people… those poor people who would  not escape, and the children and wives and husbands and mothers and fathers who  would be left behind. It was unthinkable.

The next day I decided it was  safe to venture into the city to see my friend. It was a drive that I had made  many times before. But this morning the city was almost deserted, still in  mourning for the tragedy that had occurred just the day before in our  neighboring city. I drove along, slightly apprehensive about being out and about  so soon after the traumatizing events of the day before, eager to make it to my  destination.

And then my eyes fell on a comforting and familiar site, a  site I had passed many times before on this familiar drive, a site I had taken for  granted even though I had visited it and taken the obligatory picture in front  of it. The Liberty Bell. Independence Hall was next, a place I had also visited  several times. For the first time I didn’t just drive by. I took a good, long  look. Chills and goosebumps covered my body from head to toe. As I drove by I considered the values for  which this landmark stands, values we hold dear: life, liberty, and the pursuit  of happiness.  Values for which our forefathers fought long and hard. Values that we will never view quite as casually  again.

That day I vowed never to drive mindlessly past the Liberty Bell  again. And I haven’t. Every time since, I’ve taken a long look at the bell,  thought hard about what it stands for, and thanked God for the freedom we have,  freedom that those mongers of hatred cannot take away from us.

And so I  live. We live. Joyfully. Without fear. And we remember. We will always  remember.