Where were you when the world stopped turning?

Driving into the office this morning and seeing all of the giant American flags unfurled over all of the tallest buildings, and revisiting all of the pictures, videos, and soundbites coming through my newsfeed today, I’m irresistibly and just as poignantly reminded of exactly how I felt on the terrible day of September 11th, 2001. I’m sure that everybody who lived through that day remembers where they were and what they were doing when they saw the news, and I’d like to briefly share my experience — an experience probably familiar for many, but I’ve just realized, I don’t think I’ve ever written it down before, and I’d like to take a moment to do so.

On the beautiful, clear morning of this day, eleven years ago, I was sitting in my middle school Civics class. The lesson that day had to do with the three branches of our government and the separation of powers, and at least half of the class was having difficulty containing their impatience for the early lunchtime period. Toward the end of the hour, a teacher from down the hall burst through the door, whispered something to my Civics teacher, and rushed back out again. My teacher went over to the TV, turned it on, flipped to CNN, and stood back. There it was. The horrible image of a bright blue sky filled with black smoke. We all stared in silence for a minute, and I don’t think I nor my peers really had any comprehension of what it was we were looking at. The bell rang, but nobody moved. My teacher turned away from the TV and looked at all of our bewildered faces, clearly at a loss for what to say. He finally managed to get something out: “This… this is huge.” That was when the first wave of cold horror washed over me. We all filed out into the hall to go to our next period, and the normal buzz was even louder than usual — it wasn’t quite panic, but our eight-grade minds were having trouble grasping what was happening. During my next period, we all sat in silence again and just watched the news with my teacher. That was when I began to understand the enormity of what I was seeing: As I was sitting there in Yearbook class, thousands of Americans were staring the reality of imminent and gruesome death in the face. As I was at a large school in the northern Virginia suburbs, several of my peers who had parents working at the Pentagon were pulled out of school early that day. I don’t remember any tears from anyone — just shock. Confused, paralyzing shock. At home that evening, my dad sat me and my brother down and told us solemnly: “Kids… your lives are never going to be the same.” And that was when I started to cry.

I don’t have a ton of distinct memories from my middle-school era, but that one is forever imprinted on my consciousness. I even remember exactly what I was wearing and what I had packed for lunch. I invite you to share your own stories in the comments, as we take this day to remember and reflect upon the thousands of people who died at the hands of hateful terrorists; the countless displays of courage and kindness in the aftermath of the attack; and the men and women who have worked tirelessly since to keep the forces of evil at bay. God bless America.