Archived Story

The day Americans’ lives changed

Published 10:28am Monday, September 16, 2013

One of the most heartbreaking days in America’s history began for me like any other.
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was sitting in Mrs. Parker’s science class at Alexander City Middle School. I was a seventh grader, and we were in the beginning stages of a project Mrs. Parker had set up for us involving deductive reasoning.
We were learning about the scientific method, and the project involved an elaborate “crime” – a man had been “murdered,” and the “crime scene” was set up in a nook in the hallway.
From what I remember, the scene was a red checkered blanket – like one would use at a picnic – as well as a picnic basket and a glass with lipstick on it.
All the students had been placed into groups and were filing out one group at a time to evaluate the scene. Our mission: determine who had committed the crime.
Little did we know, a much more horrifying, unspeakable crime was occurring 1,000 miles away.
Once we all made our way back into the classroom and began working on our worksheets, another teacher called Mrs. Parker into the hall.
They spoke for what seemed like several minutes.
Then Mrs. Parker stepped back in the classroom and announced that a plane had struck the World Trade Center.
We all sat dumbfounded. I couldn’t help but wonder if this somehow played into the “crime scene” scenario.
What does this have to do with the “dead” man? How are we supposed to connect these two?
And then Mrs. Parker turned on the television.
At first, students asked, “What’s happening? What’s going on?”
Speculation was that it was an accident – a terrible, tragic accident.
And then all of us fell silent as we watched as the second plane hit the South Tower. Even to seventh graders, it became obvious that this was a coordinated attack against our country.
In the entirety of my K-12 career, that was the only time that a television has been on in every classroom – all turned to news channels.
I don’t remember doing any learning that day – just watching speculation on television as to who could have attacked us. I distinctly remember the first time I heard Osama bin Laden’s name, along with Al Qaeda, among those suspected.
We heard more about what happened at the Pentagon and about the plane crash in the Pennsylvania field.
And for the first time I can remember, I was scared for my family and my country.
Every American’s life changed that day. We’ve become more cautious, more aware of those around us.
We can no longer walk our families to the gates at the airport, and we spend a lot of time going through security checks before flying.
But I also saw an amazing patriotism emerge.
How could it not? Our hearts collectively went out to those who lost their lives that day – those who were trapped either on the planes or in the buildings and those brave firefighters, police and other emergency personnel who did their best to save others.
For me, Sept. 11 doesn’t mark a day where an evil man did unspeakable acts on American soil. It marks a day where, despite a terrible tragedy, Americans were united as a people, from sea to shining sea.
My heart still goes out to those families who lost parents, children or other relatives that day. I still get teary when I think about the last few, horrifying minutes of life must have been like for those killed.
But as President George W. Bush said the day after the attack, “These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of America’s resolve.”
And no act of terror ever will.
Spears is general manager of The Outlook.