Twelve years ago today, I was on my college campus, just minutes after I heard the news of the terrorist attacks. I stood in the student union and watched the footage of the first plane hitting, then the second. Everyone crowded around the televisions in shock and disbelief. Could this really happen on our soil? This was the land of the free, the home of the brave. If something like this could happen here, what would happen next? What were we supposed to do now? That day, my friends and I did the only thing we knew how to do. We got together and prayed. None of us really knew what to say, but we spoke from our hearts, crying out to God in sorrow, confusion, and fear.
In the days, weeks, months, even years that followed, we tried to process this event. We all came together and remembered. Even if we didn’t know someone who was directly affected by the attacks, we were all affected. We all lost something that day. Twelve years have passed, and we all remember where we were when we heard the news, and what we did next.
Just a few days ago, I was able to reflect in a new way. I participated in the Run to Remember, a 5K and 10K race held to honor those who were lost that day, twelve years ago. It was my first 10K, something I had spent months training for, but it was profound in so many other ways. The event opened with a presentation of the colors, followed by the National Anthem. Then the statistics were read. We reflected on how many adults, children, and first responders were lost. We heard how many children were left without parents, how many people were injured, how many were still affected by post traumatic stress disorder. They were haunting numbers, just as large as I remembered. Then, we were led in prayer. Just like all those years ago, we prayed for God to watch over those who lost someone…to watch over us all, and to help us remember.
The race began. Once I crossed the start line, it was not unlike other races I had participated in..until I caught up to the firefighters. Two firefighters ran in full gear. The heat was blistering, and they ran the entire 6.2 miles. I ran with them, slightly in front, or behind them for the majority of the race. It was truly an honor to be running alongside them. Along the course, there were firefighters standing to the side, cheering us on, and thanking us for participating. It was incredibly humbling to have a firefighter thank us for running in a race. They risk their lives every day, running into danger when others run out, yet they were thanking us for running on a course. I can’t quite describe what that was like.
After we crossed the finish line, there was a memorial. There was a color guard and firefighters in full uniform stationed outside. We were given a flag to place inside the memorial. There was a space for each person we lost in the attacks, printed with their name. We were to place the flag beside the name, and write down the name so that we could go online to read that person’s biography. We have all heard the numbers, but to see thousands of names and thousands of flags was staggering. We placed our flags there and left the memorial. Suddenly, the fact that I was standing in the same city where I heard the news, just miles from my school, just hit me. Tears came to my eyes and I spent a moment reflecting…remembering. To take something that I have truly come to love, that has changed my life, and make it a part of this beautiful tribute was something I will never forget.