Life forever changed for us 20 years ago

Published 2:22 pm Friday, September 10, 2021

Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – I wasn’t that shocked initially when I heard a plane had flown into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.  I envisioned a small Cessna pilot having a heart attack or something – a freak accident. 

Then news broke of a second plane hitting the other tower and I immediately thought, “TERRORISTS!” But, I still had this image of small planes doing the damage and became numb when I saw the carnage on television and the planes were hijacked Boeing 767 aircraft laden with people like you and me.

Horrifying views flashed on TV in the Ole Miss School of Business staff/faculty lounge as we in total shock watched the towers upper level floors on fire, black smoke pouring out, people leaping out of windows – then both towers collapsing, hundreds below completely covered in ash running from the scene while first responders ran to the inferno – then another 767 crashed into the Pentagon – and another into a Pennsylvania field when passengers overtook the terrorists, “Let’s Roll!.”   

Wednesday, as director of MBA Career Services in the Ole Miss School of Business Administration, I also taught an undergraduate Business class of 120 seniors and wasn’t sure what I was going to say and prayed for the Holy Spirit to put the words in my mouth.  When the students were seated, I asked them to lean back and relax as I tried to help them (and me) make sense of what had happened.  

Before class, I stood on the third floor balcony of Holman Hall thinking how to explain this tragedy to my students.  I looked over at the twin towers of Stockard and Martin and thought how easy it would be for our residence halls to be targeted by these sick people.  Then noise of a Physical Plant worker weed eating below caught my attention.  As I looked about, students with backpacks were casually walking around, cars easing along the road between Meek and the School of Business, the sun was shining, sky blue, clouds particularly beautiful – life was and will go on.

I began by telling the students about my view from the balcony.  When I got to the towers of Stockard and Martin, I choked!  This wasn’t a war zone where one expects to be shot at like I was in Vietnam; this was the United States of America!  Emotion flooded over me, tears welled up in my eyes, and I couldn’t speak; 120 students sat rock-still, barely breathing as I struggled to compose myself.  

Somehow, I managed to tell them that whatever they were feeling – anger, fear, sadness, or disbelief was okay, but to not let any one of those emotions overwhelm them.  It would be somewhat natural to want to strike out at classmates or others who resembled those suspected of these hideous acts – but that wasn’t right.  This country is wonderful, I told them and in their lifetime it has been somewhat lackadaisical, but after Tuesday, the 11th of September 2001, this proud, strong, independent, freedom-loving country had its back up, psyche steeled, and they would truly know how it felt to be red-blooded Americans – proud and unified!  

That night, I attended a prayer vigil at St. John’s Catholic Church and took some comfort with those present as we lit candles, sang songs, and shared our grief with each other and God.  Thursday was a blur.  After being told SEC football games would be played that Saturday, we were then informed they were canceled.  I was frustrated because I needed some normalcy in my life, to be with other Americans, my friends, and to belt out the National Anthem.  

Friday, September 14, was a National Day of Prayer.  At Noon, I attended a special Mass at St. John’s where Pastor Fr. Joe Dyer said that out of the carnage of our crucified Lord came the risen cross and from the carnage in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, would come a strength and purpose for all us.  

By Friday night my emotions were drained – I couldn’t watch those planes hit the towers or see them collapse another time.  Saturday I just roamed around the house aimlessly, napping.  Sunday, I attended the 9:00 am standing room only Mass as people wanted and needed to be with others, with our God, to pray for those who lost their lives, loved ones left behind, brave first responders, freedom loving people sharing our grief all over the world, and for each of us 

Life changed forever for all us that day. I cannot believe it’s been 20 years, but we will defeat anyone attempting to take away our freedom, those responsible will die, and we will never, ever, forget ….  GOD BLESS AMERICA! 

Steve Stricker lives in Oxford, received his Ph.D. in Counseling from Ole Miss, and can be reached at sstricke@olemiss.edu.