HomeOpinionOPINION: Tough lessons I learned from the September 11 attacks

OPINION: Tough lessons I learned from the September 11 attacks

This Monday marks the 22nd anniversary of one of the most tragic days in our nation’s history, and looking back, my experience with it shows how some of us became painfully aware of how dangerous our world can be – or is.

I admit I can be a pretty naïve person. When someone tells me something – particularly in an interview, I’m willing to trust what that person says.

There may be people who disagree with the quote or have reason to believe the information given in a quote is false, but unless I know for a fact with my own experience that a given quote is incorrect, I give the interviewee the benefit of the doubt.

And I try to assume the best-case scenario whenever possible.

And on that Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001, not only did I assume the best-case scenario, I didn’t realize the tragic reality was an option.

I was in college at the University of North Alabama in Florence, having just started my third fall semester there and my first semester as a geography major. I had an 8 a.m. class that morning, and I left my house outside of town near the Tennessee state line about 7:30 to get parked and in class right when the lecture was set to begin.

On that commute in, I listened to a morning radio show that was syndicated then out of St. Louis, Steve and DC. I remember them having conversation and mentioning that on their television set in their studio, all the networks had broken in with coverage of a plan hitting one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

Not many people remember this, but a year or two before 9-11, a small airplane had hit another building in New York City, so when I heard that this was happening through the radio, I just assumed we had a repeat of the earlier scenario. I was already near campus when they mentioned the crash, so I didn’t get to sit and listen to them discuss very long before I left my truck.

My 8 a.m. class ended at 8:50. As class was ending in Wesleyan Hall when the geography department secretary was going around to all the classes as they were dismissing saying, “Hey y’all. You want to be aware before you enter the world outside this class room that the World Trade Center has been attacked.”

She specified that both towers had been hit by separate planes, and my immediate thought after that was, “Wow. What are the odds of that happening?”

Even for the first few minutes as students gathered to watch coverage on mounted televisions in the hallways, I still didn’t realize our nation was under attack. I couldn’t figure out why people were initially shook from what was going on because I didn’t realize the strategic placement of this attack on the American and global economy. And I definitely didn’t initially realize that an organized group of terrorists and religious extremists that weren’t affiliated with another nation’s military could pull an operation like this off.

So 22 years ago this coming Monday, I became aware of how dangerous the world is in a way I never realized.

But there were other realizations that day too.

First responders truly are among the best people in our society because when a large explosion happens in a tall building and that building is set to burn and possibly collapse, those are the people running in to get everybody out when everybody else is getting out in an every-person-for-themselves fashion.

Leadership in tough times is hard. I know there are plenty of people who think 9-11 was an inside job or that the government ignored – intentionally or otherwise – intel that could’ve stopped the attacks. But I choose to believe that when we see the clip of President George W. Bush being notified of the attacks while reading to that class in Florida, that clip is his legitimate reaction. And whether or not you agree with how he handled things for the rest of his Presidency with the war in Afghanistan and the other in Iraq and weapons of mass destruction and all that stuff, he and his team did a better than decent job helping the country mourn the tragedy and continue on as a nation.

As tragic as that day was, I miss the America we were in the following week. Everyone was patriotic on that Wednesday, Sept. 12. Five days later on that Sunday morning, the country church across the state line in Wayne County, Tenn., was filled with regular attenders and a bunch more people from the community who realized there might be a reason to ask God to bless America.

Can we ever get back to that America without another 9-11? I don’t see it, but maybe. Like I said, I’m still a pretty naïve person who chooses to hope for and believe in the best-case scenario whenever possible.

Brandon Shields is the managing editor of The Jackson Post. Contact him at brandon@jacksonpost.news. Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or Instagram @Editorbrandon.

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