The Day America Died

By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.

Founder and CEO

Joy Junction Inc.

How 9-11 affected homeless graphic 1 9.2015On the fourteenth anniversary of 9/11, we again remember the events of that terrible day and the thousands whose lives were lost to those awful attacks.

While I have my own story which I’ll share later, I wondered how the experience had affected some of our current guests at Joy Junction.

Joy Junction Resident Services Manager Denis Billy asked a few people what they remembered, and here is what they said.

One woman will never forget the day. She said she was a freshman in high school, and had a hard time grasping that such an act of pure evil could occur on U.S. soil.

She continued, “I was a freshman in high school. I was raised with the idea that America, the Brave, was safe and untouchable. This event left me felling extremely frightened and vulnerable towards the outside world.”

The event resulted in her paying more attention to news and politics. That interest has continued.

She added, “It is what caused me to want to join something like the Peace Corps or another organization built to bring peace and make the world a better place.”

One guest, in 6th grade at the time, said the events of 9/11 changed her life. She agonized over the senseless loss of so many innocent lives.

She said, “I remember everyone at school was sitting in their desks crying, including the teachers. People were calling their families. It was like everyone lost a family member.”

She hasn’t forgotten the day. Prayers to those who lost someone in the tragedy. I’m so thankful for our soldiers for fighting to keep us safe.”

Another woman was very vocal, saying “Terrorists are going to hell! I can’t believe that people have so much hatred for a country like ours. It was a horrible thing that they did to innocent people. I don’t like war, but I’m ok with our country going overseas to kill terrorists.”

One guy who fought in Operation Desert Storm said he is still affected by 9/11. He commented, “I think that we’ll always be fighting terrorists. They won’t go away.”

Almost rhetorically he added, “Why doesn’t the president bomb the terrorists? I believe that our military can do the job. We’re a good enough country to hold our own.”

Another individual said he was in New York at the time visiting family in Buffalo. He said, “The entire city was a ghost town because of the footage on TV. Restaurants were closed. My uncle said, ‘The country just died!” I thought what a crazy thing to say. We’re America! We don’t die! But, afterwards, I realized that our country was dead for one day. I hate terrorists! I won’t pray for them!”

He added, “I think that our country is stronger now. I’m glad for that. New Mexico seems like a safe place to be-I hope. I wonder if terrorist would attack Albuquerque because of the Air Force base. If they try, we’ll be ready!

A female guest with a number of relatives in the military said she is concerned that we might get another hit by terrorists.

She said, “I know what it’s like to lose someone in battle. My family gave their lives for our country. But I’m still scared. There are so many weapons of mass destruction that can still come over to our country. I’m trying to have trust in our military, but I’m still scared.”

One woman who said she doesn’t like terrorism, as it’s “scary,” said the U.S. military is sill strong enough to beat anyone.

Somewhat poignantly she said, “I still watch the footage on YouTube every September 11. I know that it’s scary to watch, but I need to remember what happened. It’s important to remember our loss. I really believe that it makes us stronger as a nation. I will continue praying for families that lost loved ones.”

However, our hearts are perhaps especially heavy this year with the ongoing barbaric behavior by ISIS, and ongoing media reports of the countless others daily living their lives under terrorist rule.

Could an ISIS attack happen in the United States? Hopefully not, but possibly. Some reports are circulating that ISIS members are already in Mexico, and I’ve seen occasional comments on social media from people asking if it would be wise to go and buy guns.

Realistically, that probably wouldn’t help should a terror attack occur. That notwithstanding, we should always be aware of our surroundings and vigilant and prayerful wherever we go.

Let’s just make sure that we don’t descend into paranoia about the “what if” of ISIS invading America. If we do that, we’ll become so emotionally and spiritually paralyzed that we’ll end up unable to focus on God and sharing His blessings with those around us.

I can’t help but wonder if we’ve learned anything from 9/11. Have we become kinder, more loving, less judgmental and perhaps more loving of God?

I recall that for a short time after the tragedy churches were filled, the Name of God was said in public places without even a peep from those who would normally very vocally protest such utterances. Political partisans even spoke to one another!

However, that spirit of cooperation disappeared about as fast as it came, so I stand by what I wrote shortly after the event that only eternity will fully reveal what we as a nation learned from that fateful day.

So where were you on Sept. 11 when, as country singer Alan Jackson sung, the world stopped turning.

I remember very clearly how I spent that day, because soon after I wrote an article about it. It now remains to help me – and hopefully you – never forget. Even though my long time readers may remember these words – they have been published a number of times before – I hope they will continue to speak to you.

My Story

How 9-11 affected homeless graphic #2 9.2015Along with millions of other Americans, Sept. 11 2001 began normally for me.

I woke up in Los Angeles (where at the time I was pursuing classes for my Ph.D.), expecting to get the first plane back to Albuquerque, New Mexico where I had plans to put in a full day’s work at the office. However, my plans were about to change.

By 5.30 a.m. Pacific Time I was at Los Angeles International Airport. I grabbed a cup of coffee, stood in line and obtained my boarding pass. About 6.40 a.m. I heard rumors my plane had been delayed for about an hour-and-a-half, but at that time I didn’t know why. I wasn’t overly concerned as I had a couple of good books to read. My plans changed a little.

A few minutes later an announcement came over the intercom from another airline stating that one of their flights which had originally been scheduled to leave at the same time as mine would not be leaving until 3 p.m. at the earliest. Something was mentioned about a terrorist attack in New York. I soon discovered that my flight wouldn’t leave till about 3 p.m. either. My plans changed even more.

Realizing that something serious must be happening, I made my way over to a bank of televisions where an ever-increasing number of people were gathering. I quickly found out the full extent of the disaster.

Terrorists had hijacked four commercial planes, and dive bombed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania Countryside. The damage was so bad that the 110-story World Trade Center had been obliterated.

As the growing crowd of people around me glued to the television increased and as they realized what had happened, faces turned grim and some people shook their heads in apparent disbelief that such a tragic scenario was unfolding in America.

Still having no idea how much my plans were going to change for that day (though nothing in comparison to the terrible tragedies suffered by those who gave their lives or lost loved ones) I thought that I would just stay at the airport and get that 3 p.m. plane back home.

However, a few minutes later I received a phone call from someone who suggested that I should rent a car. This individual suggested that I should do so quickly, as it was likely a number of other people may have the same idea. I agreed and reserved a car at the company which I regularly used.

I’m happy I did, as within a few minutes of confirming my auto reservation, my airline asked everyone to come back up the desk, where they recalled my boarding pass and cancelled my flight. Within a few minutes of that happening, an announcement was made that every flight in the entire country was being grounded. A few minutes later, an order was given for the airport to be evacuated.

People exited quickly, but nonetheless in an orderly fashion, and Los Angeles Airport, normally a maelstrom of activity, quickly became a ghost town. I made my way over to the car rental company, picked up my car after making sure that I had been given adequate directions, (a nice way of describing my sense of direction is to call me directionally challenged) and started driving.

At various and sometimes unexpected times throughout the long drive I caught glimpses of a shaken America. Pulling off the highway at an outlet mall to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks, a tersely written sign taped to the door and scratched on a brown paper bag announced, “Closed, due to national tragedy.”

However, seeing there were still people inside I poked my nose in and asked the two or three people sitting there if there was still chance of a cup of coffee. The girl who answered me, who appeared to be in her late teens and only barely able to keep her composure, answered, “Sorry, we really are closed.”

I wondered if she’d lost loved ones in the tragedy or if like me, she was wondering how this could happen in America. Her plans had changed too.

Pulling in to a truck stop a few hours later to make a phone call, I heard a burly trucker in the phone booth next to me announce to someone, “Just calling to check in and tell you that I love you. I’ll be home tomorrow.”

Maybe he called home (or wherever) regularly to “check in.” If not, I hope that he continues the practice. Sometimes it takes a crisis for us to do a reality check on what really matters in life.

Returning back to the highway for my next long driving stint, I gazed up at the sky at frequent intervals and realized what a phenomenon I was witnessing. Not a single plane to be seen in the sky. By the lack of what I was seeing, I was witnessing history.

At my next rest stop I wandered into a truck stop full of televisions where not surprisingly everyone in the store had gravitated toward the section housing the televisions, which were all tuned in to CNN.

Nobody seemed to be saying much; everyone just seemed to be trying to absorb the fact that the carnage they were witnessing wasn’t occurring in a backwater nation ruled by an iron fisted despot, but it was happening right here in America.

During the journey, I also sampled whatever radio stations I could pick up. After having listened to the news, listeners seemed glad that talk radio was giving them some sort of outlet for a collective chat (as one talk show host put it) around the electronic fireside.

Not surprisingly, many listeners were angry, but at the same time exercising a disbelief that with all of our sophisticated intelligence gathering techniques that a tragedy of such proportions could occur in America.

I finally arrived home somewhere close to midnight and collapsed into bed exhausted. At least I had arrived home. Many who had left loved ones that morning had done so for the last time, impacted by events that would change their lives and the life of America for ever.

Whatever is facing you today and wherever you are, tell your loved ones you love them. Whether it’s 9/11, ISIS, a health crisis, an auto accident or any one of a strong of other possible scenarios, none of us are promised tomorrow.