Where were you when? Depending on your generation, we all have an answer or answers to this question. Moments that intersected history that stopped the world in its tracks. Maybe it was a shuttle explosion, an assassination, the death of a prominent figure. Most of these moments are grounded in tragedy. For me and my generation, it was September 11, 2001.
My friend since Middle School, Steven Oser and I were driving North on Main Street in Acworth, Georgia. We were two years out of high school and working on the grounds crew for the Acworth Parks, Recreation, and Community Resource Department. After finishing a job at a park, we were headed back to the shop.
We were tuned into a local radio show that we regularly listened to when word came over the radio. The first report said that one of the World Trade Center Towers was on fire. Steven was from New York, so he understood the magnitude better than I did in the moment. Shortly after that came the report that had a plane had crashed into that tower.
We got back to the shop and immediately turned on the television. There, we saw the replays of the plane hitting the tower. I distinctly remember the confusion on the news channel. As they were showing the footage, it dawned on them it was not a replay of the first plane. It was the second plane hitting the other tower. We remained glued to the news with the rest of the world as the rest of the details unfolded.
An attack on American soil was something that did not register immediately. Not since the Greatest Generation experienced Pearl Harbor had this happened.
Our Country recently honored the 20th Anniversary of September 11. I felt compelled to write about this, “Where were you when” moment in my world and the five leadership lessons I learned through that moment in time:
A Crisis Can Unify
There has been a lot of traffic on social media recently about returning to the people we were on September 12. Looking back, people were unified towards one cause. We had a common enemy and all Americans wanted vengeance on those who harmed our us. There was mourning for the victims. We cast up prayers for our leaders and first responders.
The pause button was pressed on our differences, our divisions, and our political opinions. We were unified in the face of crisis.
One moment I will never forget from that day took place in about the same exact spot as when we first heard the news. This time, I was headed South to go home for the day. Before I left work, I took a wood post, attached a flag to it, and flew it from the bed of my truck. I remember passing a guy who hung out his window giving me a huge double thumbs up. Still to this day, I do not know how he kept it on the road! It was a memorable moment of unity. I still remember the raw emotion of it to this day, it gives me goose bumps.
Evil Will Always Exist
As long as the earth is spinning, we must face the reality that evil will always exist. It seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. Evil creates fear. It prefers that we remain ordinary as human beings and discourages from becoming extraordinary.
The people that carried out these heinous acts that day were evil. Plain and simple. They sought to destroy our Country and our spirit. Evil is always wrong and never right. They were wrong that day in underestimating our Country’s resilience.
Thank God for Heroes
Heroes stand in the gap for us everyday, especially on September 11. Many wore first responder uniforms that day and some were average human beings who did extraordinary things. There were stories of heroism that have emerged over time and stories that went down with the planes and buildings that we will never know.
A standout story for me has always been The Man in the Red Bandana. There was an ESPN special on a gentlemen named Welles Crowther. He carried a red bandana on him since he was six years old. Welles had the opportunity to get out of the towers safely and chose to continue to go back to help others. He never made it out.
It was not until months later when his parents read an interview with a survivor in a newspaper that they learned of their son’s act of heroism. The survivor referenced a mysterious man in a “red kerchief” that was saving others. Thank God for the heroes of September 11 and those who have stood in the gap for us ever since.
“Never forget” has been a phrase closely aligned with the remembrance of September 11. Darryl Worley, a country artist, wrote a song called Have You Forgotten. In the song, he asks a critical question, “have you forgotten, how it felt that day?” The further we get from a “where were you moment” the more we can become desensitized to it. Life moves fast and distance grows from the event and the way we felt that day.
One way that I have chosen to never forget is to watch two videos that have always stuck out to me. First, The Man in the Red Bandana referenced earlier. It is well worth the thirteen minutes. Second, is the speech known as the Bullhorn Speech that President George W. Bush gave from the rubble in New York City. The brief comments were delivered through a megaphone. At one point, someone from the crowd yells, “we can’t hear you.” Bush elevates his voice and says the following in response:
“I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you and the people that knocked these buildings down will hear from all of us soon.”
Commit to never, ever forget.
Life Is Precious
The people that were lost that day were headed to a normal day on the job. They could have never imagined what would eventually happen. It is a great reminder of how precious the gift of life is. We should value every moment of every day we have left. Do not take a second for granted. Ever.
I spent most of the day on the twentieth anniversary watching documentaries. It seems like just yesterday this tragedy happened and it is hard to believe that twenty years has passed so quickly. From the Towers to the Pentagon to the Pennsylvania field. As I watched the shows, the emotions of that day came flooding back.
The stories of loss are sobering. Close to three thousand people lost their lives that day. Each one of them were fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. They each had the ability to change the world. Their opportunity to do so was cut short that day.
https://leadershipandmain.org/interceders/The stories of heroism give me great confidence in the people of this Country. They intercede on our behalf. Those who serve in the military, public safety, frontline health care, and the Welles Crowthers of the world.
My prayer is that during my lifetime, I will never have another “where were you when” moment like September 11.
Ordinary to Extraordinary Intersection
Where were you when? How do you plan to never forget September 11? Are you grateful for the heroes that stand in the gap for us daily?