Every generation has their defining moment. Whether it was President Kennedy’s assassination; the attempted assassination of President Reagan; or even the Berlin Wall coming down; most generations had a moment they could point to that made remember exactly where they were when that moment took place.
Until ten years ago, I always thought that moment for me would be when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. It was January 28, 1986. I was home from school with a sore throat and fever. At the time I really wanted to grow up to be an astronaut, so I was very disappointed that I couldn’t go to school because we were going to watch the space shuttle launch. My mom being the responsible adult that she is, wouldn’t allow me to leave the house with a fever, so she promised that I could watch the launch at home. I remember being so excited and then so confused when just over a minute into the launch the ship exploded right before my eyes.
I carried that moment as a defining moment for 15 years. Then came September 11, 2001. It was a defining moment not for one generation, but all generations and our nation. Even the children born after that day feel its effects.
Two thousand nine hundred and seventy-seven lives were lost on September 11, 2001. Hundreds more have lost their lives in the last decade in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have followed. Out of the tragedy and ashes came national pride and patriotism. Streets that only saw flags on the Fourth of July and Memorial Day were draped in the red, white and blue. Young men and women flocked to military recruitment offices and the United States was united in grief, anger and outrage.
I can’t tell you where I was when the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. I don’t know where I was when that plane crashed in the Pennsylvania field. It’s not that I forgot or that I don’t care. I don’t know because I was in the air.
Ten years ago I was a media relations graduate assistant for the University of Tennessee. I travelled with the Lady Volleyball team and every other week or so we were travelling around the country. It was early in the season and that meant non-conference play. That particular road trip was a big one. We played in a tournament at the University of California and picked up one single game at San Jose State before heading back to Knoxville. We caught the red-eye back to the east coast after the match Monday evening. Not only was it an exhausting travel experience, it was even more miserable because the team lost the last match. We landed in Charlotte, N.C., early Tuesday morning, and boarded our last flight to Knoxville a little before 9 a.m.
Nothing seemed amiss until we landed and taxied to the gate. Then the captain came over the loudspeaker and said something about aviation history and grounding of planes. When we made it to the concourse, it was deserted and silent. The captain has said a “bomb or something” had gone off in New York. In the hours that followed I watched the TV in horror and answered worried relatives calls. I have family scattered in New York, Boston and Washington. One cousin in particular was a regular flyer on Flight 93 from Washington to the West Coast. It’s the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania. Once I knew that all my family was safe I breathed a sigh of relief, but I still felt an overwhelming need to be close to the people I love.
Ten years later, I still wish I could be closer to the people that I love everyday. But now home is here. Home is LMU. My family is not just the people that I left behind in New York, Boston and Washington. My family is my husband and two beautiful daughters. My family is the wonderful people I am privileged to work alongside and brilliant faculty members who I get to learn from everyday. I cherish this life I have made for myself and in a lot of ways I would have taken all of this for granted had the events of September 11, 2001 never happened. So for me, this defining moment may have been rooted in hate and war, but it planted the seeds of love and understanding.