Where were you when the world stopped turning? – Alan Jackson
September 11, 2001. We all remember where we were, what we were doing, and how the world became a scarier place. We watched in horror as innocent men, women and children died a horrific death. We watched in horror as first responders died trying to save lives. We cried for people we didn’t know. We cried tears of joy when a victim was pulled alive from the wreckage.
September 12, 2001, was a different day. Churches were open, people were praying, flags were raised, blood was donated and people from across the country headed to the East Coast to help. Military recruiters saw people lining up to defend our great nation. A great sense of community joined us all together.
We were like one family.
My Army husband, who was no longer on active duty, was restless. His colleagues were fighting in the War on Terror. I knew that his patriotism and military skills were needed, and I also knew that at some point, we would discuss his future military service – a decision that would be difficult to make. Should he re-up? If it kept our sons, our nephews and our friends’ sons from having to go, then yes.
Our decision was wrought with anguish. It certainly wasn’t easy. It was like putting my spouse into the line of fire. But he, being a man of character, strong faith, and a true soldier – selfless to the core – we took a leap of faith.
Without a doubt, September 11, 2001 changed me. It changed our family. It changed our country. Some of the changes in me are good – some, not so much. As I reflect the anniversary, remembering where I was, and who I was then, I will share the Top Seven Ways 9-11-01 changed me – for better and for worse.
1 – Lack of patience: When someone complains that their spouse will be gone a few days, I bite my tongue. I want to shout, “Try six weeks, six months, eight months or fifteen months at a time.” For a lot of families, you can multiply that separation by way more than one deployment in ten years. Admittedly, my lack of patience isn’t fair to others. And, truthfully, I’d rather hear someone complain about missing their spouse than have them doing a happy dance that their spouse is away. But what I realize, is that because of 9-11, my patience level isn’t always where it needs to be, and I am working on that. And it isn’t just this instance. My lack of patience with people being rude and obnoxious is evident. A flaw in my character. So, my lack of patience in others and in their complaining is truly the worst change in me since that awful day.
2 – Putting myself in other’s shoes: I find that I can be more empathetic now than I was before. Not all days, but most, I try my hardest not to judge. The other day, a clerk shorted me $10 in change. I was annoyed that I had to wait while they counted the drawer to make sure I wasn’t scamming. But I also tried to remember that mistakes happen – it wasn’t personal. I also wondered what hardships she was facing. Did she have a son or daughter deploying? An elderly parent to care for? An electric bill that couldn’t be paid? So, one good thing that 9-11 has taught me is to slow my quick tongue, and think before I speak, because I don’t know what burden the next person is carrying. And yes, I am trying really hard to remember that while driving…kind of goes hand-in-hand with that patience flaw I am working on…
3 – Value of time: Military families treasure time above anything else. So, when we see others bicker and complain over their loved ones, it really hurts. Sure, you may not want to pick up a pair of your hubby’s dirty boxers or your mom just may be a witch for grounding you. But there is a spouse out there somewhere who longs to grab dirty socks off the floor. And a teenager missing their parent, even if the parent was “being mean.” Some military families count down the days until a reunion…others aren’t so lucky, as they have faced a hero’s devastating injury or a death. Be kind to your loved ones – let them know you love them. Another good thing from 9-11 is that I learned how valuable time is, even if it sounds corny. Seconds count, as they turn into minutes, hours and days.
4 – Appreciating “geeks” who make our communication possible: Technology, used properly, has been one of the greatest gifts to military families. The ability to video chat, make phone calls, email, etc., has been a Godsend. Honestly, I don’t know how my military spouse predecessors coped, as it took so very long to get a letter from their husbands, fathers and sons. Just 10-12 years ago, we were running our Internet signal off a phone line. Now, our smartphones keep us connected. Holidays, birthdays, special events, even births can all be shared via video feed. What a blessing, what a change, for military families still serving due to 9-11.
5 – Appreciating all service families. It isn’t just the military and their families who deserve a shout-out. It is also our police, fire and other first responders – and their families. Each day, there are parents, spouses and children that send their loved ones out the door to serve and protect us in our daily lives. Those families are on the same emotional roller-coaster that military families ride. Sadly, it took 9-11 for me to really appreciate what others in our community do to keep us safe. So as much as I appreciate being thanked for my service as an Army wife and an Air Force mom, when I can, I thank our first responders and the families who love, worry and support them.
6 – Flags. Yes, you bet the flag flies proudly here. There is also the addition of a Blue Star service flag, bearing two stars. If, thirty years ago, someone would have told me, a new military spouse at the time, that I’d be presented one of these flags, I wouldn’t have believed them. In fact, I didn’t even know what a Blue Star service flag was back then. Because of 9-11, I have come to love the U.S. flag and what it represents more than I thought I ever would, because I truly understand the cost and sacrifice for freedom.
7 – Faith. Sure, it may sound cliché. But when your spouse or child is in harm’s way, you realize that you truly do not have control. Faith isn’t found just in foxholes, it is found at the kitchen table, tucking the children into bed, in holding hands in prayer, or in the embrace of a caring friend. Knowing that people pray for my family and for me is such a tremendous comfort. Faith brings hope. The biggest – and best – change in me since 9-11 has been my personal walk in faith.
So yes, some good changes, some new appreciations and most definitely an area (or two) of personal growth to work on. If we can take anything away from a tragic event, I hope it is change – good change, so that we become better people – to ourselves, our family and to strangers.
© Lynne Cobb – 2013
How has tragedy changed you? Feel free to share your story in the comment section.