Like other significant events in history, September 11, 2001, is a day that will never be forgotten.
I was not yet born when Hiroshima was bombed or when JFK was assassinated. The first significant event I remember was when the Challenger blew up. I was in 7th grade Social Studies class and we were watching the event live on television.
Fast forward 25 years and I was sitting on my couch in Durham, North Carolina, doing some studying before heading to my grad school classes. I had the Today show on in the background and my 1 year-old son was playing quietly nearby.
I watched with horror as what initially looked like an accident turned out to be a series of incomprehensibly evil acts committed against thousands of innocent victims. If I close my eyes, I can still picture the scenes of people who would rather jump out of a 100 story window than to stay and suffer any longer. People with husbands, wives, children, dreams, hopes and plans for the future. Those scenes are forever etched in my memory.
I remember picking my son up from the floor and holding him closer as my tears fell onto his soft, wispy, baby curls. I remember a fear building up inside of me as I wondered what kind of a world he was going to grow up in. What kind of a world had I brought this child into that human beings would bring this kind of destruction upon innocent victims?
The television coverage continued and we saw hundreds upon hundreds of people running from the buildings, covered in dirt, dust, blood and tears. As the day wore on, however, we also saw images of hundreds upon hundreds of police and firemen running towards the buildings and into harm's way. My heart broke for the countless thousands of people who lost their lives that day and for their families. But it also swelled with pride for the unbelievable acts of courage and heroism that were displayed that same day.
As it so happened, I was just six weeks from running the Marine Corps Marathon on that day. In the weeks that followed, there was a lot of talk about canceling the MCM and possibly the NYC marathon. Ultimately, it was decided both races would go on, partly as an effort to show that we were stronger than the fear that filled us.
The start of the MCM was crowded with marines who were carrying American flags and planned to do so for the entire 26.2 miles. Spectators were holding signs in support of the USA. I could feel the emotion of everyone around me and the tears were flowing freely during the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. This was going to be an unforgettable day.
The route actually runs right along the Pentagon for a stretch of the race. From miles 4-6, we were a mere 50 yards from the point of impact. There were no spectators allowed on this part of the course and I remember it being eerily quiet. I looked to my right and there was the Pentagon with a huge hole in it. No one could take their eyes off of it and all I could hear was the sound of shoes hitting the pavement and the beating of my own heart.
The only thing that broke the silence during those two miles was the non-stop chanting of USA, USA, USA as we would run beneath an overpass. The cheers echoed and once out of the tunnel, all would go silent again.
But I would never forget.