Ten Years Gone By

September 9, 2011 By Lauren and Tom
(yes, I know its 9/9; but I wanted to reflect today going into the weekend)

This will be one of the millions of blogs related to the 9/11/2001 attacks; and rightfully so, for those of us that were in high school and college at that moment it marked a paradigm shift in our lives.  It’s not that it didn’t also mark a drastic shift in everyone’s lives; but I can’t think of a more impressionable time in life than those teenage years.

The real world is completely different from what you imagine it as a teenager; work is fun, you actually miss the simple days of school, and independence is a blessing and a curse.  I was by no means sheltered by the time I was a sophomore in high school in 2001; I had traveled, already had plenty of success competing, and was aware of world happenings as I sat at breakfast every morning and enjoyed reading the paper with my dad before he took me to school.  But, I don’t think I ever felt more naïve than I did on the morning of September 11th and in an instant the world and the future it held changed for our generation.

The backstory is this:

My dad’s company was actually based in World Trade Center II and their offices were all above the 80th floor.  They lost about half of the employees in the WTC office (67 total were killed), people that my dad knew and had worked with for a long time.  It hit close to home in a way I never imagined; the reality that there were children my age, children younger than me, who weren’t having a parent returning home that night. 

In an odd twist of fate; I was home incredibly sick on the morning of 9/11.  I had just started my sophomore year of high school, and came down with some sort of infection that just shut down my body.  I had actually spent the better part of the night on Sunday the 9th in the hospital because of a weird medicine interaction and was fighting a high fever at home on the couch the 10th and 11th.  I’m pretty sure my biggest gripe when I woke up on 9/11 was that I was sick, I was going to be sick on my birthday on the 13th, and I was going to have to catch up on homework.  I was watching the Today Show live when they broke coverage after the first plane hit, I wound up watching the developing story with my mom as I popped more meds to try and break my fever…and then suddenly we saw the 2nd plane hit the other tower; the tower that housed my dad’s company and so many others.  The next hours were surreal; I felt as if I was dreaming with my fever as we sat there and watched both towers fall, and heard the reports of the Pentagon and eventually Flight 93.  My mom was frantically trying to reach my dad who was in Florida in the middle of a meeting (unsuccessfully for a very long time I might add), she reached the staff at the local office in Ohio he worked out of and I think the discussions between my mom and those she knew were tears and attempts to understand who was where; was anyone from the Columbus office in NYC…ect.

Nowadays; there is a generation of kids that were only a few years younger than I was in 2001 that weren’t even alive when 9/11 happened.  They have no idea of what flying was like before, or that Homeland Security didn’t exist, or that there was a time the USA wasn’t involved in wartime operations, or any of the other changes that have occurred as a direct result of that day. 

For as much traveling as I’ve done; I’ve never been to NYC, I’ve driven through New York State several times but never made it to the Big Apple.  The closest I got was flying back from Spain in March of 2000, a mere 18 months before they fell.  I was with my dad and we flew into Newark from Brussels and got in late, and then had an early flight from Newark to Columbus.  The morning of our flight the gate we were at faced The WTC Towers and my dad and I had a conversation about where their offices were and how big the towers were and what it was like to be that high up in them as a “normal” thing versus some touristy type attraction.  When I was Googling around earlier today I stumbled across this video:

The image of where I stood in March of 2000 is almost identical to where this was shot 18 months later.  The video gave me the chills in a way; and even more so when I realize that it’s been 10 years since that view was possible.

In hindsight; watching how my dad handled the situation in the days and weeks after truly shaped me in ways I didn’t realize until this past year.  My dad has quite the life story and I hope someday sits down and pens out his many experiences; but it is as I get older I realize how the advice he discreetly doled out and the advice he never had to give, but simply demonstrate; has made me the man that I am now.  But as we’ve coped with our own personal tragedies in the past 15 months; his ability to stand tall and persevere while not being afraid to show he was effected by what transpired; I have become aware of just how much those days and weeks following 9/11/01 shaped a young generation.  Be it being 13 or 21 years old; at least for a moment adolescence was set aside as we were made aware of the harshness of the real world.  Kids a few years older than me were going off to war, and eventually classmates of mine were doing the same; not something any of us ever fathomed on Sept 10, 2001.
My “den” at my parents old house.  I hand painted this; by far one of the coolest things I’ve done and finding this picture makes me want to find a wall somewhere to do it again (and yes; this came from the Friends episode where the flag is hanging in “Central Perk” after 9/11)

I’ve had the honor of wearing the stars and stripes USA national champion jersey several times over my career; but the feeling of putting the first one on is something I will never forget.  I had worked so hard to win that jersey, but the second I had it on…it wasn’t about me; it was about what the flag, the stars and stripes, the colors…what they represent.  It wasn’t about a bike race, or about me, it was about the big picture and the patriotism I felt.  I can barely make it through a Star Spangled Banner without getting the goose bumps and shedding a tear, our house has numerous cycling related stars and stripes items hanging up; but nothing tops the comfort I feel every time I see a flag.  It can be on a flag pole, it can be on a wall, it can be the little flag every woman got handed at Lauren’s half marathon last Saturday, or it can be on the casket of a fallen hero; but I always take that moment to remember what the colors and shapes mean, and that the flag has persevered through national tragedies, and personal tragedies for every citizen.
“Bill Armstrong” and I after that first jersey in 2005

So; with that being said…don’t just be patriotic and proud of the flag and what it means on 9/11; be proud and patriotic every day, we’re all better for it when we keep that in mind.
Cheers USA, despite reflection and sadness, our heads are held high