Ten years on, we still live in the long shadow of September 11, 2001, that horrific day that changed our lives in ways big and small, known and unknown, a historical discontinuity that stands among the most significant events of American history, and certainly the most significant in recent memory. It seems trite to write about “how 9-11 affected me,” but there are many better and smarter writers who will put the event in its proper perspective, so the personal is what is left to me.
I was in my last semester of college that year, living in the suburbs and commuting to school. That September morning, I was getting ready for class (a lazy 11 am start to classes on Tuesdays), when my roommate yelled to turn on the TV, because something terrible had happened. I did so, and watched along with the rest of the world as the World Trade Center collapsed in dust and flame. I went to class that morning, and we discussed the day’s events. Classes were then cancelled for the day, and I went home.
After that, I don’t remember doing much differently. I put an American flag sticker on my car, and graduated college, and went to work for the university. The war in Afghanistan began; my only connection to the war was a friend from high school, who was serving on the USS Enterprise, the aircraft carrier that launched some of the first airstrikes there.
In August of 2002, though, I joined the National Guard. In March of 2003, I went to basic training, and while there, the war in Iraq began. One of my drill sergeants said, “mark my words, you’ll all be there someday.” I laughed off his bluster, but his prediction proved correct.
On the tenth anniversary of that day that changed the world, I’m here in Kuwait, serving with tens of thousands of my brothers and sisters, wondering where we’d be but for 19 hateful men. Would I have joined the Guard if 9-11 had never happened? Impossible to say, but it seems unlikely. I didn’t join out of some sense of going on a terrorist hunt or some revenge fantasy, but the military did seem like the right place to be during such a historic time, if that makes any sense.
I don’t know. It’s easy to ascribe monumental significance to your decisions after the fact, when in reality something like joining the Guard was a decision that was complex and weighed by many factors, most of them pedestrian. But the mood, the environment, the zeitgeist if you will, tilted me in that direction and touched everything that happened in my life after that day. Everything since then – my career, my marriage, my friends and lifestyle – all inevitably changed when those four airliners veered off course to bury themselves in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the fields of Pennsylvania. Those hijackers wanted to change the world, and change the world they did – for countless millions all around the world, in countless ways. I’m just one of them.