Opinion

Kyle Troutman: Never forget how together we were

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

It was another Tuesday.

I got up, had breakfast, got ready, took the bus to school and played my morning pickup games of basketball with my friends at Dunbar Middle School in Little Rock, Ark.

It was time to head in for class, so I made my way to my third floor, eighth-grade homeroom, Mrs. Flynn’s English class.

It was not another Tuesday.

Mrs. Flynn was in tears behind her desk, puffy-eyed and unable to speak. As my classmates and I filed in, all she could do was point to the wall-mounted Zenith television. Normally, we watched the Channel One News, a daily program for kids.

On that day, the programming was a whole different kind of educational.

As the bell rang, we all sat quietly as we watched the World Trade Center’s north tower billow smoke. We listened to newscasters trying to make sense of what was happening and we made speculations ourselves within small groups of our nearby peers.

Only minutes after the bell, we witnessed the second plane crash into the south tower.

Silence.

This was no accident. The country was under attack.

Like the rest of the country, we watched in horror, dismay and confusion as first responders raced to save the lives of those inside. Before we went to our second period of the day, both towers were on the ground.

At 13 years old, witnessing the attack live was something I don’t think I truly comprehended. As news came in about the Pentagon and the Shanksville, Penn., crashes, I think we all understood some of what was at stake, but it was difficult to comprehend the life lost on that day and frightening to think what the future response to the attack would bring.

All our teachers that day in school — except our choir teacher who actually made us sing, possibly in an effort to distract us from the events — kept the TVs on throughout the day and did their best to help us comprehend what happened.

We united. Many of us prayed. Some started writing letters to families of the lost. Each of us coped in our own way and looked to the next day for hope.

The next morning, I found that hope.

Walking to my bus stop in my neighborhood of lots no larger than an acre apiece, every house now had a U.S. Flag draped from the porch, in a window or on a flag pole at half-mast. Some houses had multiple.

I had seen patriotism in many forms before — elections, Olympics, Independence Day — but never before had I seen a patriotism this strong, this wholesome, this unified.

Many things changed on that day 20 years ago. Our lives were affected in how we travel, how the government used surveillance, how we viewed parts of the world and how they viewed us.

The lessons of Sept. 11, 2001, are still being learned. While the events of that day were terrible, what I will always remember most, as I am a glass-half-full kind of person, is how united we became.

It was the one time in my life that I can truly say race, creed, sex, disability, social status and all other markers by which we divide ourselves were equilaterally thrown out the window.

We were American. That was it.

As Sept. 11 comes about each year, we say, “Never forget.” I think most take that as never forget what physically happened, the lives lost and the terror we experienced as a nation, but I think it’s more than that.

I hope we never forget how great we were at coming together, how we set all our differences aside and sang the same song.

In today’s hyper-divisive political climate, I choose to remember how we were one people and yearn for that time when we could turn such a negative event into positive action.

We would do well to take a lesson from ourselves going forward as we continue to define what kind of nation we are and will be.

Two quotes from President George W. Bush’s address to the nation on that day stand out to me.

“We responded with the best of America — with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could…

“This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace.”

Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of The Cassville Democrat since 2014. In 2017, he was named William E. James/Missouri Outstanding Young Journalist for daily newspapers. He may be reached at 417-847-2610 or editor@cassville-democrat.com.

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