Seventeen Years Past Eleven

September 11.

Obviously, today will be a day of remembrances, “never forget” mottoes, and much more. A horrific day for our country, and one not to be cast aside lately, even seventeen years later.

But we’re approaching a generation past; children about to enter college didn’t live through the events of that day. We’ve conducted two wars, suffered several more terrorist attempts, and so much more since that horrible, horrible day. What was it like for veterans in 1958, seventeen years after Pearl Harbor, an event that launched us into a world-spanning war? Do we tell our children today of the events as our greatest generation did back then? The world has changed in the seventy-plus years since; Pearl Harbor is a distant history lesson to most of us. Has the world changed more in the last twelve? Are we already relegating this tragic day to the confines of special editions of newspapers and the history books?

Today usually has at least one “where were you” conversation pop up. Mine’s not anything heroic or epic, but quite mundane. I was setting up a book fair at a school and didn’t find out what was going on until my assistant manager called me. With my store near the Pittsburgh International Airport – and reports that Flight 93 was still in the air but missing somewhere over Pennsylvania – I returned quickly to oversee my staff and their safety. (The strip mall lay right on the approach path to the main runway; we were only minutes from downtown Pittsburgh and its skyscrapers.)

We spent several hours watching the news in the store and trying to reach our loved ones. Eventually we closed the store (after convincing corporate it was necessary, as the county sheriff suggested we evacuate the plaza) and I drove the empty roads home to my wife, where we hugged for seemingly ever.

That day was the catalyst for me; a month later, I resigned my position, determined to do something with my life – to find a better purpose for it. The stark reality we all faced twelve years ago today made me realize that life isn’t worth living if you’re just going through the motions. With the world entering a new era of upheaval and strife, each day became important – why waste it doing something you abhor?

I don’t want to attribute the horrific events of 9-11-01 to the changes in my life since then; it seems morbid, selfish, and trite. But it does stand as a marker in my personal history, a turning point of sorts. I suffered no personal tragedy that day, but I did find a new dawn of understanding.

September 11 is a day to remember for all of us, a personal memorial. Remember the innocents lost, the cruelty visited upon us, and the millions of lives forever changed from that day.

Including mine.

(This post was originally published on 9/11/13. Updated slightly and republished on 9/11/18.)