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art theplaceI just wanted to break 18 minutes. Taking a seat in Ms. Trudeau’s second period social studies class, all I had on my mind was the impending cross-country race that afternoon. I was in 11th grade, captain of the high school team, and poised to set another personal record on our home course once the dismissal bell rang. But, for now, it was cracking open our books and learning about American history in some sort of structured fashion.

Ms. Trudeau was only a few minutes into her lecture when our principal Mr. Mooso knocked on the door. His face was stern and cold. Ah crap, what did I do now? Dammit, I knew I shouldn’t have leapfrogged over that eighth grader this morning. He whispered something into her ear. Ms. Trudeau’s face dropped. Jeez, it’s not like I hurt the dang middle schooler. 

“Class, I don’t want to alarm any of you, but Mr. Mooso has informed me that there has been an attack of some sort down in New York City. It appears to be pretty serious and they have closed the Canadian border as a precaution,” she said. “We’re not sure what’s going on, but due to our school being so close to the border, we are putting the school on lockdown until we get more information as to what’s going on.”

Everything seemed to blur around me. Is this a joke? Scared voices of my peers around me blended into a collective sound of confusion and powerlessness. Ms. Trudeau rolled the classroom television to the front of the room and turned it on. At that time, most of us of probably couldn’t tell you what the World Trade Center was or what city it was located in. But, there the towers were, in Manhattan, on fire and smoking like two cigarettes consumed in haste.

We watched in horror as the gigantic structures collapsed: “Did you just see that?” “Everyone got out of the buildings, right?” “They just said another plane hit the Pentagon.” “There’s a fourth plane still missing.” The classroom bells rang to signal the next period, but none of us moved. We were glued to the screen. How could this happen? Will we be next?

I remember being in some dreamlike state as I went to my locker and wandered the hallways. I remember a girl crying near the gymnasium. I remember dozens of students piling into the cafeteria and watching everything unfold on the biggest television the school owned — in total silence, in shock of realizing the world they woke up into a couple hours ago was no more. I remember after-school activities being cancelled (no cross-country race, which didn’t matter anymore). And I remember driving my rust bucket 1989 Toyota Camry to my girlfriend’s house the next town over, holding her hand in front of the television, wondering if that night would be our last on earth. 

It’s been exactly 14 years since that day. I think of it often, when I’m driving through the night on some empty stretch of road, sitting at a bar in a quiet town sipping on some lukewarm suds, heading up some desolate mountain trail in an effort to escape everyday reality for a moment or two. Because when you can take a step away from the madness of a modern world, you can see just what all the noise is all about.

What 9/11 did was draw a line in sand, for all who bared witness on that bluebird sky Tuesday in September 2001. Innocence was shattered, in every direction. For my parent’s generation, the vivid imagery evoked their childhood traumas of the Kennedy assassination. For the generation after mine, they’ve never known a society without the words “terrorism,” “Al-Qaeda” or “freedom” at the forefront of every news broadcast, newspaper headline, conversation overheard or partaken in. 

And I think the worst byproduct of it all was seeing deep fault lines emerge within family, friends and neighbors, where political outlooks and religious beliefs became a safety net and warm blanket to protect yourself from the fear that lay just outside your bubble — the darkness of the unknown, the vulnerability of people never before threatened by the true sinister nature of humanity.

When I reflect on 9/11, I think about the countless heroes that emerged from the rubble, the selflessness of those who ran towards the chaos, the bright light of beloved men and women snuffed out but immediately reignited in memory. 

Fourteen years on, this day still rings in my heart. Sometimes it feels like yesterday. At other times it feels like a millions years ago. But the day itself is as vivid and alive in my mind as ever. It probably is in yours, too. Whether we want to say it out loud or not, we all lost something that day. But, we all have somewhat moved on, trying to assimilate back into a “normal, routine life.”

Yet, when this day rolls around, we also get a tad somber, a silence that echoes loudly in our souls when we ponder just how far we’ve come, for good or ill, since the perils of the outside world came knocking on our front door. 

Never forget, we’re all in this together. Brothers and sisters in arms, we are all human, all worthy of love and peace, as long as we don’t lose sight of just what the cost of losing that is when actions speak louder than words. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

 

Hot picks

1 The last Rockin’ Block Party of the summer will be at from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19, in downtown Waynesville.

2 The inaugural Mountain Disco Music Festival “Raise the Roof” fundraiser will be held from 1 to 11 p.m. Sept. 19 at Soul Infusion in Sylva.

3 The Water’n Hole Bar & Grill (Waynesville) will have its annual all-day “Pirate Party” all-day Sept. 19, with Humps & The Blackouts (psychobilly) at 10 p.m.

4 There will be an open-mic poetry night held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22, at the Rathskeller Coffee Haus & Pub in Franklin.

5 The Smoky Mountain Rollergirls will take on the Middle Georgia Derby Demons on Sept. 19 at the Swain County Rec Park in Bryson City.

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