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What happened to our unity?

Posted: September 8, 2011 1:04 p.m.
Updated: September 9, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Most of the time, I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast or if I even locked the front door after racing out my apartment each morning.

Yet, the events that unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001, will forever be etched in my mind.

Unlike several of my graduate school friends who were in New York City and Washington, D.C., on that day, I was hundreds of miles away from the billows of smoke and screams of people crying out for their loved ones.

I didn’t have to sit at home, practically staring a hole into my cell phone while praying that my parents would finally find a way to call me and let me know they were OK.

No, when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower at 8:46 a.m., I was a junior at Columbia High School, sitting in the AFJROTC office during my “free period,” attempting to finish a U.S. History homework assignment that probably should have been completed a week before.

“What movie is that?” I asked my AFJROTC instructor as I meandered into the empty classroom a few minutes before 9 a.m.  

He was staring at an explosion on the television, and I assumed he was looking at a movie trailer. After all, huge explosions and images of a skyscraper with gaping holes in its side, such as the one that was shown on the television screen, don’t happen in real life.

“That’s the World Trade Center in New York,” he replied, without even looking at me.

At 16 years old, you’re certainly not a child anymore. You know that there are people out there in the world -- really bad people -- who have no qualms about harming others for no reason. I certainly wasn’t naïve at the time, having already seen the devastating impact that gang rivalries had on my high school classmates, community and city.

And yet, I still couldn’t wrap my head around what was being shown on the television screen.

It had to be an accident, I told myself, because no one would purposely fly an airplane full of people into an office building full of people.

And then I watched the second plane fly into the World Trade Center’s South Tower.

By the time I walked out of my second period U.S. History class, both of the towers had fallen and the Pentagon was in flames.

During the next few weeks, I watched the entire country put on a united front.

It was refreshing to watch people of all ethnicities, backgrounds and walks of life come together in support of each other. It’s something I hadn’t necessarily seen before.

Some people say everything changed on 9/11. It certainly changed me.

I learned about the devastating effects hate can ultimately have on a person, and why it’s so important to live our lives in a more peaceful and humane way.

I learned it really was possible for people to come together and focus on the love we had for each other. That surpassed anything else at the time -- our differences didn’t matter.

We weren’t defined or divided by our political parties – there were no red states, blue states or Tea Parties.

In the midst of tragedy, we really were the United States of America.

But now, it seems as if that sentiment has dissolved. We may be more divided today than ever.

It’d be nice if our communities, state and country could come together again, and this time, commit ourselves to building an enduring legacy of 9/11.

The events that happened on Sept. 11, 2001, had an impact on everyone.

Now that it’s 10 years later, what impact will it have on you?

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