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It was May 2002 and I was interviewing a student for a feature about her high school athletic career.
She was one of those athletes who excelled in every sport in which she competed: swimming, soccer, cross country and track. She could have received athletic scholarships in any one of the sports, but she decided she wanted to concentrate on soccer.
Her college choice: the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Her choice surprised me, but she explained the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, affected her. She decided she wanted to commit herself to national service, and the Army was where she wanted to go to make a difference.
I think she was typical of many high school students at the time, and I think she is representative of many Americans since then.
I have talked to many athletes since Sept. 11 who have become more focused on making a difference for America. Two weeks after the attacks, one of the football teams I covered played a home game. Leading the charge onto the field was a football player carrying and waving a huge American flag. I learned later he wanted to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Sept. 11 changed Americans and America, but not just in levels of patriotism.
I know it has changed me. I am more cognizant of time, at how fleeting it is—drips of water from a leaky faucet; at how irretrievable it is—a constantly clicking do-not-save button.
Time is as irreversible as a called third strike.
So, as I heard so often from the Jesuits at my high school, “Carpe diem.” Seize the day. (I like the literal translation: Pluck the day.)
I think back to a classroom discussion in elementary school. I guess it was religion class, for that was the only reason I could think of why we were discussing this topic: What would you do if you had one day to live?
That was not the topic you think about when you’re in the eighth grade. Most of gave the answers the teacher had suckered us into: In those 24 hours, we would do the things we never had a chance to do. Answer after answer was pretty much the same.
Then our teacher called upon one final student to answer. I did not know this girl—funny how you can spend years at the same school and not even speak to some people—but at graduation she received all kinds of academic awards.
When the teacher asked her what she would do if she had had 24 hours to live, the student answered, “I would live my life the same as I always have.”
At the time, I thought it was one of those contrarian answers intended “just to be different,” an answer to get an A+, an answer to get a pat on the head from the teacher and make the rest of us look not so smart.
Over time, I have come to understand her answer.
MICHAEL PAUL is the sports editor at the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or at email@example.com.