15 Years Later

I remember it clearly, though it was 15 years ago. There are times you will never forget. It was a Tuesday morning. I was in college. Tuesday wasn't a chapel day, and I didn't have an early class, so I was sound asleep. So were my roommates. Then the phone rang just after 7 a.m.

I was in Los Angeles. It was after 10 a.m. on the East Coast, but I wasn't thinking about that. I was thinking about why someone would possibly call my room before 9 a.m. I answered the line and it was a guy who'd been in school with us the previous year — Josh. He now lived in Northern California and was living a conventional life, not being on the college schedule. I'll never forget the sound in his voice. It was a level of panic I'd never heard. And I'll never forget the first words he said.

"Dude, turn on the TV, America has been bombed." In the fog of early morning, I struggled to comprehend what I was hearing. America had been bombed? That didn't even make sense. I'm sure my response to him was both too slow and too confused, because he repeated his call to turn on the TV. Finally I did, much to the dismay of my other roommates. And the first image I saw when it came into view as the second tower of the World Trade Center collapsing.

Finally snapping to life, I urged my roommates to get up, too. We starred at the screen in a sense of awe and wonder. How could this be happening. Then, of course, the panic began. Of course we all remember the planes that hit the towers, the one that hit the Pentagon and the plane that was lost in Pennsylvania, downed by heroes who prevented it from crashing into the White House. But in the early hours, there was a lot of panic and confusion. Not all the planes were accounted for and some inbound to Los Angeles were presumed to be hijacked as well.

I remember hours of panic about being attacked, wondering where the planes would strike. Of course, it didn't happen, but it was a time of hurt, confusion, and a sense of loss. I was a 20-year-old college student. I remember calling my mom and trying to find my sister, who was a freshmen at Biola at the time. It was an awful day. But it wasn't just one day. For weeks, we watched the seemingly 24-hour stream from New York, struggling to understand what had happened and how we move forward.

When I was in high school, I always wondered what it would have been like living in the United States on December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. I imagine there would have been fear and confusion, but also a sense of delay. Information wasn't instantaneous then. On a sleepy Sunday the United States was plunged into World War II, but how long did it take for people to realize it? I remember my mom telling me the story of watching cartoons when the news broke in with word that President Kennedy had been shot in 1963. To that point in my life, I'd never experienced anything like that. But on September 11, 2001, I was a first-hand witness to history. It's something I will never forget, I'm sure of that.

Today marks the 15th anniversary of those attacks, and the memory of that day feels as vivid as ever, yet somehow removed. So much of our world is different. Air travel will never be the same. The threat of terrorism is real and ever-present. And our young men and women continue to deploy to the Middle East, with seemingly no end.

But so much of our world is the same. We have settled into normal patterns and routines. What seemed impossible in the days that followed the attacks has been routine for years. Life moved on. Though not for everyone. For the families of the 2,977 who lost their lives, life will never be the same. There is a hole that aches more as the calendar flips to September each year. And on this day, we can't help but pray for them and mourn with them, and it's right that we do so.

But on September 11, 2001, 13,238 babies were born in the United States. And on this day, those children turn 15. It is a day of celebration for those families and those children for whom this day remains a historical event. In fact, this is the first year in high schools across America that 9/11 is being taught as a historical event because these students weren't alive to experience it. They know nothing different than a post-9/11 world.

Today, as we relax with family, enjoy the first week of the NFL season, toil at jobs or complete projects, I hope everyone takes a moment to remember those lives that were lost, pray for the families who will never be the same and give thanks for the next generation for whom a special day — the day of their birth — is forever marked as one of the worst days in American history.


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