9/11: A harrowing, galvanizing moment

You heard about those moments growing up — for my parents, it was JFK’s assassination.

To a smaller degree, I remember middle school science class being disrupted when the loudspeaker broadcast the verdict of the O.J. Simpson trial. In hindsight, that was just plain strange.

I remember the day terror rained on Columbine High School. I was a high schooler, myself, and remember being glued to television coverage with my classmates and teachers, tears forming in the corners of my eyes as I envisioned myself huddled in a storage closet.

But, for my generation, the most poignant moment was 9-11.

As I get older, the college years tend to become more abstract, where distinct individual stories give way to more of a feel that gets activated when I see a photo or drive into my college town.

But Sept. 1, 2001? That day still feels like it was yesterday.

I remember groggily stumbling out of bed to my roommates telling me to sit down and watch the TV. Come again? What is going on?

Being that I was less than a month into my freshman year of college, I was suddenly experiencing a deeply personal yet deeply collective moment with a group of guys I really liked, but didn’t really know. Are you doing OK?

I sat there, puzzled at first, then scared, then angry. What was going on? How many more landmarks were going to be hit? How many more planes were going to drop? How much more horror?

I remember walking to class naively thinking that maybe life in my little bubble would return to normal. I remember the professor, tears in his eyes, telling us to go back to our friends, to our rooms, to our families. There would be no class that day. What to do now?

I remember playing euchre with buddies, talking. We were all about 18 years old. Would we be swept away to war, drafted like some of our parents and grandparents were? Should we just go ahead and volunteer?

I remember rushing to the gas station, waiting in line for what seemed like forever to fill up. Should I just drive the couple of hours back home? Be with my parents and brother and figure it out from there? Maybe I’d seen the last of Central Michigan University.

The questions. Oh, the questions.

In time, those were slowly answered. The planes stopped dropping. The rubble stopped smoldering. We began to come to grips with what it meant for each of us individually and collectively. We mourned. We shook our first. We joined together — realizing that we’re all a little smaller than we thought we were.

It was a heck of a lesson for an 18-year-old to learn.

Each year that goes by, I try to reflect on that day and the aftermath. I pray for the families of the victims and for God’s hand over our country and world.

As we neared the 20th anniversary, old memories were stirred up when our country’s military pullout of Afghanistan made headlines, none more startling than the tragedy that recently struck American military personnel and civilians who were killed in Kabul. I think of the challenge women and children under the new Taliban-backed regime may face, and I am saddened.

That point was hammered home with the loss of Northern Ohio’s own Max Soviak, whose life was celebrated in the Berlin Heights/Milan area this week after he died in the recent Kabul attack. Max wasn’t much older than I was on that September day, and he bravely answered the call for his country. I am reminded of the life I enjoy and the sacrifices that have gone into our society.

I think about how political that society has become, that the harrowing, connected moments following news like Americans being killed in Kabul are so fleeting. Shortly after the collective moment of silence that we’ll join together for this weekend, it’ll be back to being Biden’s fault. Or Trump’s. Or Obama’s. Or Bush’s. We are mired in a war of another sense, a “culture war,” if you will, with a chasm growing between many of us.

I think to the days after 9-11, when we were joined by our fear and frustration, by the realization that heaven isn’t on Earth and we’re not as invincible as we thought.

I still believe in the power of us coming together for the common good, recognizing evil and realizing we all share common emotions — anger, fear, sadness, love, longing.

9/11 was a day and time I and our nation will never forget.

We should not forget about our heroes and their families — home and abroad — who lost their lives on 9/11 and its aftermath.

But we should also not forget the unification that came in the days and weeks that followed. To me, mourning and holding hands with our neighbors in a bipartisan fashion is what being an American is all about.

Jeremy Speer is the publisher of The Courier in Findlay, Ohio, The Advertiser-Tribune in Tiffin, Ohio, and Review Times in Fostoria, Ohio. He can be reached at jeremyspeer@thecourier.com or jspeer@advertiser-tribune.com.


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