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Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks that took the lives of thousands of Americans and changed how so many of us feel about this country that we call home. Like many Americans, those attacks still affect me to this day, maybe even more so than they did then. I was unmarried at the time, though I was getting ready to make a deposit on an engagement ring. Now, married with a family, I think about the attacks even more, when the anniversary nears in particular. Anger, sorrow, fear, I still feel them to this day. And I hesitate somewhat to write about it even now.
That day was a typical day for me at the time. I had just gotten home from work, I was working the overnight shift for a printing company. I had showered, and was getting ready to hit the sack for a few hours because I had a two classes later on that afternoon. I hadn’t even turned on the television; I had worked hard that shift. On the edge of sleep, my dad called me and told me that a plane had flown into the world trade center in New York. He seemed to think it was some kind of terrorist attack. I didn’t necessarily believe my dad at that point; I was tired, and he tends to exaggerate the situation some times. Still, I turned on CNN to find that a plane did indeed hit the Trade Center. There seemed to be a lot of confusion and “we’re not sure” statements from the news media. Already I had felt myself getting angry. The news media, for all of their experts and masters degrees, can be downright stupid sometimes, and the confusion of that day was no exception. I nearly turned everything off and went to bed, part of me wishes that I had.
I watched in horror as the second plane hit. I knew then for sure, like most rational people did, that we were under attack. Of course the news media didn’t want to “speculate”, but even the tiniest brains on TV couldn’t deny what was happening. The anger I felt, that many people felt, was nearly uncontrollable. I’ve had only a few true adrenaline rushes in my lifetime, and that moment was one of them. I could have put my fist through solid oak. I nearly did. My dad had to talk me out of reenlisting in the army. I cursed and screamed like a madman. More reports began to come in, the Pentagon had been hit, there were rumors of more hijacked planes seeking targets. So much was happening that it didn’t dawn on me to call my future wife until later on in the morning. I got through to her at her work. We spoke for a few moments, I told her that I loved her and that I would see her later, and it occured to me right then and there that maybe thousands of people in New York City, Washington DC, and other places around the country would not get that call from their wives or husbands, boyfriends or girlfriends, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and friends.
Not long after, I cried, a grown man who had not led an easy life, who had not cried much since he was a little boy, who had thought himself as mentally tough as anybody alive, but I cried anyway. I thought about those who would never get a call from their loved ones again, but were still sitting by their telephones, hoping with everything they had that the call would come, knowing there was little hope that it would. I thought about the bravery of the firemen who had rushed into a burning building, despite the fact that every sense in their body was telling them to go the other way. I thought about the families of the firemen who had died, the devastation they must have been feeling, and maybe through all the pain, all of the grief, a pride they felt because their husbands, dads, and sons had died bravely performing their duty, and made the ulitmate sacrifice in saving the lives of people they did not know. I thought about those poor souls on the hijacked planes, who had lived out the last moments of their lives in fear, many attempting to call their loved ones just one last time. I thought about everybody who felt as helpless as I did, and had true empathy for possibly the first time in my life.
We all ran the gamut of emotions in the days that followed. Yet with all of the sorrow, grief, and pain, something good happened. For the first time in a long, long time, America was the country that it always dreamed of being. Our politicians became leaders, not squabbling, petty fools looking for perks and pensions. Our heroes weren’t actors, or models, or athletes; they were firemen and policemen, soldiers and nurses, construction workers and volunteers. They were the people who went to work every day to make the world a little better place, they were the people who stayed at ground zero even after their shifts were over and they hadn’t slept, just for the slight chance that they may save one more life. Our heroes were the “little” people, the people that live week to week and month to month, and work the extra hours to provide their families with food on the table and a warm place to sleep at night. The world saw that we were not lazy but tireless. A people and nation perceived to be greedy were seen to be filled with generosity, a people perceived to be selfish were full of sacrifice. We were the land of the free and the home of the brave, even if for a little while.
Those days gave me hope, a hope that maybe only an American can feel. I realized then that I loved my country, and my countrymen, and the dream that only a free man can dream. I am a father and husband, and an electrician by day, a hobbyist woodworker for a few hours each weekend. I am one of the “little” people. That is all I am, but it’s still a pretty important person to be. I wake up every morning and go to work so that my family has a place to sleep and dinner on the table. I go to work because it’s the right thing to do. On the weekends I sweep the sidewalk and mow the grass, because I’m trying to make my small part of the world a nicer place. I woodwork because I like to work with my hands, I like to build things that I can be proud of, that my family can be proud of. I like to learn something new each day. I think many Americans are like me, I like to believe it’s the vast majority. I think that many woodworkers are like me. We like to build, we like to make our own small part of the world a little better place. We aren’t destructive. Every woodworker I ever met wouldn’t dream of knocking a building down, a woodworker would only be happy if he or she could fill it with furniture. I like to think that this attitiude makes us better than the sick, hateful people who hijacked those planes. I don’t know much about them, and what little I do know is more than I want to. But I would bet, I would hope, that not one of them was a woodworker.