Watershed Moment

September 11
Photo courtesy archive.org

It seems at least once a generation an event occurs that changes everything. A watershed moment.

The stock market crash in 1928. Pearl Harbor. The Kennedy Assassination. Ask anyone who was alive for those moments and they can probably describe in great detail where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news.

For me, the watershed moment of my generation began while I was sleeping.

I worked late on Sept. 10, 2001, and was barely starting to rouse when my mother came in at 8:50 the next morning to tell me that someone had bombed the World Trade Center.

At not quite 20 years old and still uncertain of my place in the world, my first thought was, “Again? Why did you wake me up for this?”

I made my way into the living room just before 9 a.m. and the picture on the screen was far more striking than I was expecting. In my mind, I was preparing to see images similar to what we saw in February 1993. Some smoke and debris, maybe a damaged facade and injured people exiting the building.

I was fully unprepared for the gaping hole in the side of the North Tower and the billowing black smoke.

I turned back to the screen just after my mom explained that an airplane had hit the tower, only to see the second plane strike the South Tower.

From that moment, I was glued to the coverage. Even the short time I left the house, I made sure I was near a radio in case anything else happened.

And tragically, more did. It wasn’t long before news of billowing smoke at the Pentagon came in. Then, the South Tower collapsed. A short time later, the North Tower came down.

Then reports of a plane crashing in Pennsylvania.

I began holding my breath every time an anchor or reporter uttered the phrase, “This just in.”

No one knew whether it was over.

It was surreal in the days that followed. I don’t recall exactly when it was that I saw a plane in the sky again, but I remember a conflicting feeling of elation as dread as I watched it make its way to some distant destination.

I was coaching football at Sheffield that season, and I was grateful that our scheduled game that week was at Youngsville. Grateful because I would get to stand, side-by-side, with other members of my community as we observed a moment of silence and sang along as the Eagles marching band played the national anthem.

I’m one of those people who can say that I’ve spent half my life literally on either side of 9/11. I can say without equivocation, life before 9/11 was much different than life post-9/11.

It is, without question, the defining moment of my generation and I can only hope that the defining moment for the next generation is far less tragic and brings about positive change.