Twelve years ago I was in my first year of teaching high school, and I was helping direct kids into the building and off to their classrooms when one of my fellow teachers mentioned something about an airplane hitting the World Trade Center. I was thinking a small Cessna or something. When I heard it was an airliner, my first thought was, "Wow ... so many people dead. Dear God."
I had no idea at that moment how much history was unfolding around me.
In the coming days, I had to answer questions as if I knew the answers, and knew how things would turn out. Sometimes selfish questions. "Why is this on TV all the time? It's happening in New York, it has nothing to do with us!" "Is Carson Daly OK?" "When will this be over?"
I said, at one point, "This is one of the most important historical events to ever take place on American soil." To which one of my students responded, "I think the signing of the Declaration of Independence is probably a little more important, Mr. T."
It was a rough few weeks. It was probably one of the roughest first years of teaching I could have hoped for. And as an American, it was a huge blow to my feeling of security and identity. It was a shock to my system, just like every other American.
The spiral of history that has evolved from that moment is amazing to watch. I've seen our civil liberties degraded but our spirits soar. I've seen nations turn against us, but our outreach to the world increase. I've seen political decisions made that pick at and rend the fabric of our nation, but leaders in our culture stand and make something good and pure.
We live in a strange nation. We're hated and loved at the same time. We're divided against ourselves politically but united in our dreams.
9/11 rang us like an ancient iron bell, and there are some cracks from that. But the sound of us, the resonance that is America, it's still there. I believe that.