April 19, 1995 – This was the first time in my few short years when I realized evil was real. It wasn’t reserved for storybook characters or fantasy lands. It existed in my world, and it was no respecter of persons.
A newspaper with this image on the front page lay on the counter top. I vividly remember the profound hurt and confusion that weighed on my heart as I tucked it under my arm and crept away. Hiding in my bathroom, tears fell onto the page as I studied this poor baby being cradled by the man who wanted so desperately to save her, and I agonized over how another human being could be so heartless while the other would give his life for another. I never told anyone about that day, but it changed my life forever.
September 11, 2001 – Freshman year of college. Once again, I found myself in my bathroom. As I switched on my radio, it wasn’t my favorite songs coming from the speakers. Instead, it was the somber voice of the host, solemnly announcing that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. As I stood in front of the mirror, the realization that it had been deliberate hadn’t struck me. I just thought it was a terrible accident.
As I drove to class, the man on the radio continued his horrific tale of the growing panic and chaos happening. And then I heard it: the second tower has been struck. My heart hit my stomach. It wasn’t an accident. We were being attacked.
At 18 years old, I didn’t know what to do. I sat in the parking lot, my fingers aching around the steering wheel, and swallowed back the pain and confusion that too closely mimicked a memory I kept close to hear. Finally, I gathered myself, climbed from my truck, and made my way to class.
A handful of students sat at their desks, each face showing the same darkness I felt rumbling inside my own chest. I took my seat as my classmates talked back and forth, the radio in the corner continuing with the never-ending tragedy as it unfolded. Both towers had been struck and now the Pentagon. Military and law enforcement were scrambling. It was a nightmare that wouldn’t end.
After what felt like hours, the professor walked in and quietly told us to go home and be with our families. The drive back was painfully quiet. I couldn’t take hearing anymore. I didn’t expect anyone to be awake as I unlocked the deadbolt, but as I opened my front door, I found my dad, sitting in our dark family room, tears streaming down his face as he watched clip after clip of the people leaping from the windows to escape the raging inferno. As the second tower collapsed, I couldn’t keep it in anymore. He wrapped his arm around me, and we just sat in silence, watching as the shape of our nation irrevocably altered.
While I will forever keep these moments in my heart, the one thing that I took away from the tragedy that also redefined me, was the love and humanity that brought America together. Even if it was only for awhile, people were a little kinder, a little more patient, and showed a lot more love.
Like funerals, it always seems to take a tragedy to bring people together. And while that’s a terrible shame, I always cling to that for as long as hard as I can. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, even like the fairy tales, love always wins.
Don’t let the current chaos of the world allow darkness to set up in your heart. Don’t cry alone in the bathroom and wonder why evil things happen or allow yourself to get lost in the darkness that seems to surround you. There are so many more beautiful things out there than the ugliness of hatred and division.
Love each other. Do good to one another. There’s enough evil out there, lurking in the shadows, and waiting till we’re weak from fighting each other to attack us once more. Don’t give it the chance. Love without reason.
Be the goodness of mankind.