Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Five Years Later: Where Some of You Were

On Monday, I sent out a simple email to random people in my email address book and on my myspace page: Amidst all the tributes and specials about 9/11, tell me where you were on that day. I asked that there be no political jargon, just a simple “here’s what was happening with me when I found out” kind of thought. And I got a lot of responses. Below are some of the best, some of them have been edited for space, but none so much as to lose the sentiment behind it. To you who responded whom I didn't quote here, I say, Thank You... and to you who allowed me to post your thoughts, I say Thank You even more.

It’s one of those things that, to use a much over-used cliché, “you’ll always remember where you were.” For the greatest generation, that was Pearl Harbor. For the baby boomers, it was when JFK was shot. For our generation, it was 9/11.

Katy Sexton, then some chick I didn’t know, now one of my favorite people in the world – My friend Allison and I had planned a short vacation together to San Antonio and then Austin, Texas. The morning of the 11th we were in our hotel room in San Antonio and I was in the bathroom and Allison was watching TV in the room. She was just glued to the TV staring at it not saying anything. I came into the room and she said "look at this"! And then I saw one of the towers on TV on fire and smoke pouring out of it. We were speechless, far away from home. It was very depressing and very sad. We didn't cry about it then though. We weren't scheduled to come home for several days so we just stayed there and hung out. We flew home with no problems. Once I landed at the B’ham Airport I just broke down and sobbed like a baby.

Meredith Watkins, then Meredith Tisdale, a student at Belmont University, now Meredith Watkins and a good friend of mine from Valleyd Church (an sbc fellowship) – I walked into my dance class (college elective) and over heard people talking about it. My first thoughts were trying to sort through recent movies I had seen and trying to figure out which one it was. As conversation continued I realized it was not a drama on the screen but a live act in play. Second thought, which airline. First emotion, horror. My brother had just started to fly as a flight attended. Praise the Lord he was not flying. As I watched the two towers collapse along w/ a hundred other students and teachers in the library, my thoughts were "Is this the worst of it, or has a nation wide attack just begun?..."

Personally, I have a few of these events… the first was probably the Challenger exploding in 1986 (I was in Mrs. Wikel’s social studies class when they told us). Next was the Berlin Wall tumbling down in 1989 (I was in my room, watching tv when the news broke—sadly, I missed the performance by The Hoff). I was in a Bible study at Lisa Turk’s house when we heard about the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. I was two blocks away from the tragedy when the Olympics were bombed in 1996. And in 2001, I was in a radio station, like you, watching it unfold live on tv.

Kourtney Kelley, now freshman at Carsen-Newman College, then a 8th grader at Oak Mountain middle school – I was on a school field trip at a camp during which the faculty and administration decided to hide the attacks from us so as to not upset us while we climbed walls, did trust falls and other team building exercises. I think they should have packed us all up and taken us back to the school because not only did we not know what was going on, our parents could not get a hold of us either. While the rest of the country watched it piece by piece, I had everything thrown at me at once as I stared at the TV screen of my room, alone and bewildered.

So, I wanted to know where you were. I’ve told you my story, which you can actually read much more
in depth here, a posting I actually wrote in 2002 after I visited Ground Zero 11 months after 9/11, and I put it this site last year at this time. It also features several people giving their story of where they were, including Stephanie’s.

Tyler Campbell, then a 7th grader, now a senior at Spain Park High School – I remember exactly where I was: 7th grade in Mr. Coker's English class. The day was going pretty good until some one came knocking on the door to turn the TV on. Something about the World Trade Centers being hit. I had no idea what the World Trade Centers were or where they were... I remember Mr. Coker explaining some it to us when we saw the 2nd airplane hit the other tower. The only thing I could think to do at that moment was to pray. I had no idea who these people were or what was really going on, but I knew it wasn’t good and that they needed God more than ever.

You know, its funny, that question. No other question can be asked to get the kind of response than “Where were you?” Everyone says almost the same thing, that they turned on the TV, saw the second plane, saw the towers fall and such… yet, everyone has a different take on it. Everyone on this page was at a different point in there life, some in college, some in high school, some were not parents then, maybe even not married, and yet, through this one tragic event, we were all united under a similar circumstance.

Brooke Smith, then student at Alabama, now reporter for NBC 13 – I was in bed…off at college at the University of Alabama. I was awakened by my mother’s frantic voice…”Our nation is under attack”. I woke up and turned on the news…just in time to see the second plane hit. My first thought was…this is it…WWIII. I went to class that day…some didn’t…some where thinking the same thing as me.

Cindy Warner, friend of mine from Valleydale – I was on my way back to Birmingham from a very early morning meeting and as I was coming back into Birmingham, the FAA had grounded all planes and they were just swarming over I-20 coming in to land at the airport. The wings were casting these spooky looking shadows over the interstate - it was very scary. I couldn't help but wonder if they were really going to land at the airport, or whether one was going to go crash into the SouthTrust or Harbert Plaza building downtown. Once I got back to my office, I watched, as most people did, in total amazement as the two towers came crashing down. I learned later that a good friend of mine, Pam West, had lost her New York firefighter boyfriend, Denis Germaine, 33, that day. He had just visited her in July and they had come over to our house for dinner. We had grilled steaks and sat out on our deck and talked for hours. Just three months later... he was gone. A true hero of 9/11, he had rushed into those buildings to save others. They never found him, nor any evidence of him. He just vanished that day in those buildings.

Many of the people that responded to my email I didn’t even know five years ago. Some I barely knew two years ago. And yet, out of everything, this is the one event that we all share. So here are the rest of the responses… some short, some long, some leading to lifelong decisions, others just leading to reflections and tears. Some of my favorite people in the world answer the question “Where were you when the world stopped turning?”

Paula Mackey, then dating Ken Mackey, now married to Ken Mackey – I was driving to Ga. for some job training at a big paper mill and when I heard the news, I hesitated on whether to turn around and come home closer to my children or not, but decided to go on. If I had seen this on TV, I would have chosen to go home. I was stunned and moved and inspired by those involved who were doing what they could in the midst of this tragedy. I realized how much I loved my then “boyfriend” and needed to make that commitment of marriage with him. We were engaged in Nov. 01 and married March 16th 2002 and Nicole was born that following November (My blessings that came from 9/11)

Paula Maddox, mother of one my kids in WalkAbout middle school drama – I was in my car driving to work listening to the Rick and Bubba show when Mark Prator said something just happened to one of the Twin Towers in New York. The one major memory that sticks out most, is the people who made the decision to jump out of the windows from the top of the towers. What despair they must have felt, what they must have felt to think that was what they needed to do to get away from the fire. The other will be the phone conversations from the towers or the planes to loved ones telling them good-bye.

Gary & Margie Eubanks, one of my most admired couples in the whole world – (Margie) We were getting ready for school/work and Gary's business partner called. I answered the phone, and he just said "Margie, turn on the TV. A plane just crashed into the twin towers". I thought it was a joke at first so I turned on the TV. We watched as the second planed crashed into the second tower. We saw it when they fell. We almost could not believe what we were seeing. A friend of ours was working in Manhattan that day. All we could do was pray.
(Gary) I remember seeing the images for the first time and although not understanding at the time the full scope of what was actually happening, I had this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that life wouldn't just go on as "normal" from this point forward. I also remembering questioning everyday things for a short period of time, like "Should we even take our kids to school-are they safe?" I showed my kids, Josh and Meagan (7 and 6) the footage of 9/11 for the first time several months ago...they do not fully grasp the magnitude of the disaster, and could not understand why someone would do that. They do not understand just yet how evil the ruler of this present world is! Praise God we know how the story ends!

Nikki Preede, then a friend from TSU and reporter at Fox 6, now a friend and reporter at WJXT in Jacksonville, FL – I was working the night shift at WBRC in Birmingham at the time so... I was sleeping. My mom called to tell me to turn on the TV... that a plane had just flown into the Twin Towers. This was really scary because 1) my dad was a commercial pilot and 2) I grew up just outside NYC and have friends that work in the Towers. At first, I was certain that it was some sort of crazy accident... then the 2nd plane hit the 2nd tower. I called my mom back and told her that I loved her... then I called in to work. It was a really long couple of days on the job... and I've never cried so much at work –

Ben Caver, then student and fledgling musician, now musician and fledgling firefighter - I was in class in Birmingham, AL when the first plane hit. I started getting messages from friends telling me to find a TV… I got up and turned it on just as the second plane hit. I didn't know what to think other than it just didn't seem real. I basically camped out with the news the rest of the day watching as much of everything as I could, wishing I were there. The whole day inspired me to start volunteering with my local fire dept and that has now grown into what I hope is a long career.

Jennifer Atchison Dale, friend of mine from TSU, now a WKRG news producer in Mobile, AL - At the time, I was producing the noon show. I was told to come on in if possible, a plane had crashed into the WTC and it was going to be a busy news day. I assumed it was some two-seater… and to my shame, I remember thinking, “At least I will have something to put in my show.” When I pulled into the parking lot, our assignment editor was getting out of his car. He yelled, “Another plane just hit the other tower!” I walked in, and we all stood in front of the bank of televisions watching the news. The worst moment was when the first tower collapsed. I heard screaming down the hall. Our sales manager's brother was inside. After the plane hit, he had called her to tell her he was fine, but he was the emergency director, or something similar, for his floor and had to get everyone out before he could leave. He died. You know something? When a hurricane is headed our way, the phones in the newsroom ring off the hook. I don't remember the phones ringing that day. For the next three days, no crime. Everyone was watching TV.

Matt Latta, then a student at Lee University, now married to Ginger and a new proud father - I will never forget how that day unfolded. I was beginning my sophomore year at Lee University and I lived in an apartment near the campus. Ginger was teaching some autistic children on campus that morning for part of her internship and she was going to come to my apartment at 9:30 for us to go to Tuesday chapel. I was still asleep that morning when my cell phone rang. I looked and saw that it was my mother. She told me that I better get up and turn on the TV, that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Still kinda dazed, I went downstairs and turned it on Fox News to see what was going on. As soon as I started watching, the second plane flew into the towers and I knew that something was going on.
A few minutes later, Ginger walked in… She sat down with me and we watching in horror as the first tower collapsed, and then the second. We were completely stunned and didn't know what to do. While we didn't want to leave the TV, we felt like we really needed to go to chapel. We sat down with hundreds of frantic students, wondering what was going on and if everyone's families and friends were ok. We spent the hour praying, as a university, for everyone in New York and Washington and for our President.
When the service was over, I went to my Microbiology class… the teacher cancelled class so we all hurried home to watch the events unfold. I arrived back at my apartment to find my three roommates, all having just returned from US Marine Boot Camp over the summer packing their things thinking that they were about to be called into active duty.
The University had planned a candle-light vigil for that evening to pray again for the people involved and we felt compelled to attend. As I stood in the dark, holding a candle, listening to the prayers and songs of so many dedicated people crying out to God, somehow I knew we would be ok.
After the service, I rushed to my car to hear the President Bush's primetime speech on the radio, since I would not make it home in time to see it on TV. I will never forget the scene as I opened all of the doors of my car and people from all walks of life, many of us strangers to each other only moments before, began to crowd around the radio to hear our President tell of the day's events. It was like a scene from a movie- all of us joined together by our identity as Americans and as Christians.
I had a hard time falling asleep that night, yet somehow, through my anxious anger and heavy heart, I knew that God was in control. My roommates never got called into active duty, but we all knew we would never be the same. The world was a different place now.
As I sit here, five years later, holding my newborn daughter and thinking about that night I am overwhelmed with the same feelings I had that day. Sometimes I wonder what kind of world we have brought this precious child into. But then I am reminded that our God is greater than this world, and we have an amazing kingdom awaiting us after this world fades away. Thank God for perspective.
I think I might make this a yearly thing. Perhaps next year, I'll ask about twenty other people, and see what they have to say. Thanks for reading. We'll lighten the mood next time, I promise.

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