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On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I wandered away from my desk in the newsroom where I was working, likely looking for something to eat or caffeine to jump-start my day.
On the way back, uneager to get the morning’s work started, I strolled through the front office and stopped to chat near the front door. Above the main desk, a television was showing live images of a smoking high-rise in New York.
“A plane hit one of the towers,” the receptionist told me.
Thinking an inexperienced pilot had jetted a small plane into the New York cityscape, I sauntered into the newsroom. The television there had yet to be turned on. I reached up, pushed the button and shared with the rest of the staff the same news that had been shared with me.
“A plane hit one of the towers,” I said.
Some people stopped working as I adjusted the volume. Several got up and moved closer to the small television screen.
As we stood there trying to take in the words we were hearing, we quickly understood it wasn’t a small plane after all. A commercial airliner had been commandeered and forced into a very large, very busy public building.
As we watched, from the side of the screen, another plane emerged.
“Is this live?” someone asked.
The plane moved across the screen, then disappeared into the massive building, sending smoke and debris for the world to see.
Even with it playing before us, we were unsure if what we saw was live or if footage we had missed earlier had just been replayed.
It was live, we quickly found out, as newscasters proclaimed a second plane had hit the second tower.
As journalists, we’re supposed to be prepared for anything, but there was nothing in our training that readied us for the horrors we saw. Some gasped. Some stood silent. For others, tears fell. The clickity-clack of keyboards stopped and we all came together as one, frozen in our fear and sadness.
“We’re under attack,” a member of our team, a veteran, said, as tears began to fill his eyes. He hit his desk out of frustration, disgust and sadness.
No one knew what to do.
As word about what was happening spread through the building, others soon joined us. Quickly, names were spilling into conversation as workers recalled friends, family and acquaintances with ties to New York City, and later that morning, Washington, D.C., and the Pentagon.
Just as journalists across the world did, our small Kentucky news team joined together to find out everything we could about what was happening that horrible morning. We called family and friends. We searched out long distance phone numbers for everyone we could think of—and were tipped off to—who had local connections to the communities where the terror attacks unfolded.
We also recounted the impact of the attacks directly on our community, including everything from scared schoolchildren to long lines at gas stations.
Suddenly, in the midst of great tragedy, this big world seemed a whole lot smaller.
In the weeks and years that followed, each commemorating the anniversary of that tragic day, we kept in touch with many of our contacts. They described how cities changed, how people changed, how they changed.
All of us changed that day. And now, seven years later, the mention of 9/11 brings back memories often as raw as the day it all happened.
Today, as we mark another memorial of that awful day, we should not forget the tragedies and horror brought upon us, but as part of the continuous healing we must undergo, we should also remember some of the good that came from such pain.
Our nation stood together, unified in a way we had not seen since World War II.
People of all ages, all genders, all socioeconomic backgrounds, unified to help neighbors, friends and strangers in need.
And most importantly, we saw just how brave firefighters, law enforcement officials, emergency rescuers and everyday people can be. We were reminded in the most difficult of life’s circumstances we can prevail and common good can arise above evil.