My initial intention in creating this blog was to offer first-hand advice on baseball and insights into the life of a professional athlete to whoever cared to listen. But this particular post is different.
Today is bigger than sports.
How many moments in your lifetime can you recall where you remember exactly where you were, whom you were with, and what you were doing? Probably not so many. But I’d be willing to bet that most of you reading this can recall the exact place you were on this date 14 years ago – on September 11th, 2001.
I was in 1st grade, sitting in Mrs. Wolk’s English class. It was a typical day: kids being kids, a teacher beginning her lesson, nothing out of the ordinary going on. I was taking out my notebook when suddenly, the phone on our teacher’s desk started ringing off the hook. That particular desk phone never rang ever. Strange. Who could it be? This early in the day?
The only time that phone rang was when a kid was called out to go home early for a doctor’s appointment or something like that. That phone signified a positive occurrence. As a kid, that ring meant one thing: one of us was leaving school early, who was the lucky one? But it wasn’t even 9 A.M. yet – no one would be leaving quite yet… We didn’t know the reason for the calls but we knew something wasn’t right.
This time, that ring wasn’t good news for one student – it was bad news for all of us, and little did we know it at the time, but it would shape much of our lives forever. As the phone continued to ring, one by one, each one of us was called out to the lobby to get picked up by a parent or guardian.
Our initial reactions, just as you might expect from any 6 or 7 year old, were excitement: we all got to leave school only 40 minutes after it started. But as we entered the lobby, people were acting differently then they usually acted. Even as 6/7 year olds, we could recognize fear, and we certainly could recognize fear when it registered on the faces of our own parents. At that age, Mom and Dad were Superman and Wonder Woman; they could never be scared or shaken up – it just didn’t happen. But on September 11th, 2001, it did.
My recollection of that day involves the image and sound of that phone ringing off the hook, then registering the universal fear in the air and eventually making it my own, and also the overall feeling of the unknown. But the thing that stands out to me most in my memory of that day is when I was exiting my school to go home… The image that sticks out most and that I will never forget is the chilling image of fire truck after fire truck, EMT after EMT, ambulance after ambulance, and police officer after police officer heading into New York City to help in any way he or she can. They ran directly towards the danger.
I was 7 years old when the attacks happened. When I got home, my family immediately turned on the news, and everyone was in shock. They didn’t want me to watch the news, but as a kid when you’re told not to do something, the first thing you want to do is do that something…. So I found my way to a television and watched image after image of the buildings in smoke. Explaining this to an adult at the time must have been hard… but explaining the image to a 7 year old? What would you even say? All I remember was seeing my mother in shock, which meant I should be worried. Wonder Woman was in tears.
I live in New Jersey off the first exit over the George Washington Bridge, the bridge that connects northern New Jersey to New York City. My father is an attorney in New York City, and his firm at the time was located in midtown Manhattan. He commuted – and still commutes – everyday. My father is the hardest working man I have ever met… and his biggest client at the time was located in the World Trade Centers… With the news of an attack, my family was worried sick.
Thankfully, as soon as my father heard of the attacks, the first thing he did was call home and let us know he was safe, (which I later learned was a miracle because all the phone lines were incredibly busy that day). My Dad had actually flown to North Carolina the day before and was giving a seminar as the attacks happened. Thank God. Friends of mine weren’t as lucky as I was. They lost parents, relatives, friends, other loved ones. What the hell was going on?
As a result of the four planes that got hijacked that day, 2,997 people were killed for absolutely no reason other than disgusting, baseless, blind hatred of America by a faction of evil people. Everyone around the New York City area knows either someone who lost his or her life on 9/11 or someone who lost someone on that tragic day. My thoughts and prayers are with all of those people – including you, my reader, if you were a victim of that horrific day.
Terrorists set out to instill fear and distress in the greatest country in the world. They thought those attacks would make us crumble and give up. They may have temporarily succeeded in the confusion of that day — we can’t deny the pain we felt and the way our lives were altered forever. But what those terrorists never fathomed would happen, happened: as a nation, we rose up.
People from the surrounding areas and first responders from all over immediately ran towards the dust and smoke. To these heroes, nothing mattered except for helping those who were trapped in the rubble and leading them to safety – not even their own lives. That is what makes America so great… When we were at our worst, we are at our best; we have heroes in our midst who will not back down.
Regardless of your political beliefs or if you like him as a person, when our President at the time, President George W. Bush, took the mound at the World Series in New York City for the ceremonial first pitch of Game 3 in October 2001, it was special. It was a symbol of hope, a symbol of strength. Here was our President, in front of 50,000 New Yorkers and an audience around the world, delivering a strike. In the background, you could see our heroes – the police officers, first responders, fire fighters, etc. – standing guard. This was the month after the worst terrorist attack on American soil in history, and our President was taking the mound in the city where the shock waves from the attacks were still so strongly reverberating.
The United States came together after 9/11. Skin color, religion, political beliefs – none of it mattered. All that mattered was that we were all Americans, and proud of it. We stood together and still stand together as such.
To the many police offers, first responders, EMTs, firefighters, members of our great military, and the citizens who ran towards the flames at the Towers to help however you could, you are my heroes. Thank you. If it weren’t for people like you, I would not be able to live in peace and do what I love – none of us would.
So whenever someone calls an athlete or celebrity his or her hero, remember who the real heroes are.
God Bless America.
Your post brings back such chilling memories of that day. I, too, remember exactly where I was when I heard the news – art class, my principal came in to make the announcement and clarify the chaotic confusion that had spread through the school hallways the minutes before 9AM. Never forget.
God Bless America, God Bless our troops, God Bless our first responders. And God Bless the local heroes who may not wear a uniform but were there for each other that day. Proud to be a part of this great country.
As a fellow New Jersey boy just out of high school, this story brings back so many terrible memories of that day. But thank you for writing this Rob. Many people don’t realize what being near to the attacks was like. This truly was one of the most terrifying moments in our nation’s history, and your words about the shock and the recovery could not articulate any clearer what is so great about this country.
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