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It Changed Everything

September 19, 2011

 

Like many Americans, it is hard to reconcile that it has been ten years since September 11, 2011.  Also, like others, the memories surrounding those days are excruciatingly seared into my memory.

On September 10, 2001, I drove from Wilmington, North Carolina to Cullowhee to participate in a retreat of the North Carolina State Board of Education.  The drive in the car was long and almost surreal.  I remember driving from the ocean to the mountains  and becoming overcome by the beauty, the greenery, and the peacefulness of it all– many good resolutions were made on that trip.  I have taken similar peaceful and serene drives in Pennsylvania from Erie to Philadelphia, when visiting my dad who was undergoing chemotherapy.  Such drives seem to wipe the slate clean, and it is hard to escape the intensity of the beauty-- little “pieces of heaven...”

On September 11, the retreat was scheduled to commence after breakfast.  I remember walking down a long hall towards the meeting room.  There were large clear windows, so it was like being inside and outside at the same time.  The closer I came to the end of the hall, the more I began to sense something was not quite right.  The other retreat participants were eerily quiet, and all faces were turned towards a large television screen.  I remember asking someone, "Is this really happening?”  She nodded silently.  As a group of about twenty of us watched the horrific events on the large screen, some cried, some turned away in disbelief, and others could not look at anything but the screen.

While still in shock, I began to think about my 11 year-old daughter in middle school and my husband.  Was my mother alright?  I searched for a place to get a good cell phone signal.  When I reached my husband, his calm voice reassured me, "everything is okay here.  Nothing has changed here." But it had.  Life had changed everywhere!

Somehow, I drove with several people from Cullowhee to Raleigh, NC. Although we took turns driving and somehow arrived at our destinations, the car must have driven itself because I do not remember anything but arriving home, so relieved to be with my family again.

For days afterward as the death toll climbed, we watched as so many brave Americans risked their lives to save others– complete strangers.  Through the toxic cloud hanging over the mass of broken concrete and twisted steel that was the World Trade Center, what did become obvious was that the American spirit had not been broken.  We could and would stand together to rebuild, to remember our heroes and heroines, and we would do it together.

Together, we would triumph!

Ten years later, those sentiments are needed more than ever as so many Americans struggle to feed their families, to remain in their homes, and to hang onto just a little piece of the American dream.  The collective "we" is still urgently needed as we continue to build a more competitive America– one student at a time, one community at a time, and one state at a time.

Together, we will be victorious!

Michelle

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