Seventeen years ago my day began like an ordinary Tuesday. At the time, my twin daughters were in kindergarten at Field Elementary School in Neosho and my son was not quite six months old. School routines were still new on that day but after a few weeks, we were getting into a routine. With Patrick in my arms, I walked Emily and Megan down to the end of our long rural driveway to wait for the school bus. My husband had built a bench for us to sit on as we waited.
I remember it was a gorgeous day. The sky was a rich, deep blue, the kind of autumn hue that makes you yearn for the changing leaves, cooler nights, the taste of apple pie, and the sight of geese winging south for the winter.
As I cleaned up after breakfast and set the the house to order, the phone rang, not an unusual occurrence. My husband asked me if I knew what was happening and I said, "Where?"
Roy told me to turn on the television and I did. I tuned in before the Twin Towers fell. I watched as people leapt to certain death, with Patrick cuddled in my arms, resisting the urge to rush to school to pick up my daughters and bring them home.
I watched the live coverage and even began recording some of it so my husband could see it. That turned out to be unnecessary because the news coverage replayed them over and over.
When the towers fell, unexpected and without warning, I was struck dumb. My husband was still on the phone, relaying the events playing out to his co-workers and when I fell silent, he waited.
I had tears caught in my throat as I said, "The towers fell."
When word came that another plane had hit the Pentagon and then that United Flight 93 crashed in a Pennsylvania field, after passengers took back control of the plane, I wept.
I watched most of the day, with fear and trepidation. Although an adult, a wife, a mother, I wanted my parents who were in Joplin. My in-laws were camping in the Colorado wilderness and wouldn't even hear of the terrorist attacks until they returned to civilization days later.
Until air traffic nationwide was grounded, I never realized how much background noise planes made as they traveled overhead. I remember that contrails left by passing jets vanished for a few days and the silence almost resonated. In the aftermath, American flags flew in greater numbers than I ever remembered seeing, from porches and vehicles and buildings of all types.
A school event planned for that evening was cancelled. Gas prices soared to very high rates. Once my family was home, we gathered around, even the kids, to watch the coverage, to hold each other tighter, and to pray.
Our world changed that day, now 17 years ago. Our nation changed. For a too short span of time, we were united as Americans. We were one nation who came together in the face of the terrible attacks and the loss of over 3,000 lives.
I am saddened today to think that as nation we have become divided and the gulf between us seems deeper. We are Red and Blue states, we are Republicans and Democrats, we are white, black, and brown, we are old and young, we are rich and poor, we are religious and not, we are without the unity we shared on 9/11/01.
I wonder if we are a nation are any safer. I want to believe that we are. I think Americans have become more vigilant about terrorism but there has also been too much misplaced hatred toward people who are not the ones who were behind the attacks.
If there is to be a lasting legacy for our nation after 9/11 these years later, let it be a return to unity and let us remember with pride at the end of the day, we are all Americans.