We remember: A nation forever changed on 9-11-01.

Has it been a decade already? The headlines 10 years ago in the Raymond-Prinsburg News read “Apparent terrorist attack shakes the United States” and the next week “America: Under attack.” A nation was in shock over the terrorist attacks on our own soil. How could this have happened? Why did this happen? What will happen next? Those questions were on the mind of Americans everywhere as they struggled to make sense of the tragic events.

You would truly be hard-pressed in this country to find a person that doesn’t remember the events of
September 11, 2001 and what exactly they were doing when they first heard the news of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. My kids can all tell you what class they were in and what happened after that (they were 12, 10, and 9 at the time.) Me? I had stopped at Cenex in Clara City to get some much needed coffee after back-to-back, early morning ambulance runs. The image of the first plane hitting one of the twin tower buildings was flashing across the TV screen. We watched the rest of the events unfold later on at work and listened intently, albeit in disbelief, to the radio the entire day. Minnesotans and the entire nation were gripped with fear, confusion, and extreme grief-  both for the lives lost and for a country that for the first time had been the victim of a terrorist attack of such an enormous scale. Nearly 3,000 people died as a direct result of the events of that day. This didn’t happen on our turf. It just didn’t.

Air traffic screeched to a halt, phone lines were tied up, schools closed, and prayer vigils were held everywhere across the nation. Americans banded together and flags flew where they hadn’t before. Patriotism was at an all-time high in the weeks and months following 9/11.

And still a decade later there isn’t a day that goes by that there isn’t talk of the attacks and its aftermath (think airline travel, the resulting wars, etc) somewhere in the news. We are a nation forever changed.

I have always been saddened by the loss of life on that September day in 2001 but not knowing anybody that was hurt or killed and living so far away from where the actual events took place that sadness has always been just that- sadness for a terrible event- nothing more, nothing less. It wasn’t until I visited “ground zero” a couple of weeks ago that my sadness changed to something else and I’m not even sure what that something else is.

My parents, my daughter and I decided to make our first NYC stop at “ground zero.” We enthusiastically bounded out of the subway eager to see the sight. We looked up, we looked around, we looked at the map- we didn’t see what we were looking for, although I’m not sure we knew what that was. Finally my dad asked one of the nearby police officers where “ground zero” actually was. We had been there the whole time and it was then that we actually understood. We looked up to a eerily vast empty space as he pointed out where the mighty buildings once stood. Chills crept over me as the realization of what actually happened on that day nearly 10 years ago suddenly gripped me. The gaping holes where the towers once filled the sky were suddenly so very evident. I choked back the tears as I imagined the absolute sheer terror that New Yorkers must have felt on that day. It’s gut-wrenching and heartbreaking to imagine terror of that magnitude.

It’s also so hard to fathom that some of the tallest buildings in the world were nestled among countless others in a small corner of a giant city and now they were gone- along with them 2,753 lives. Only the grace of God spared that corner of the city from more disaster and loss of life. To see the buildings that remain- you can still see the damage on some of them-is quite an incredible site.

After we returned from NYC I took some time to reflect on that visit and on the events of 9-11-01. I went back and watched some of the footage, I looked at some of the photos. Photos of stunned New Yorkers watching the towers burn and ultimately collapse, photos of people covered in thick dust running for their lives down the streets of New York, photos of firefighters emerging from still standing buildings with victims in tow- the images are incredibly haunting.

As the anniversary of the attacks approach, prayer vigils and other events are planned all over the nation, including our area. I’m not sure what I’ll do to commemorate, but it will be something. I probably wouldn’t have said that a few weeks ago.

God bless the families and friends of those that lost loved ones in the attacks. We will never forget the terrible events of that day a decade ago. We were all forever changed on September 11, 2001.