Thursday, September 10, 2009

I Pledge Allegiance

     My experience of 9/11 will never be the same as those Americans on US soil had on that fateful day. Less than two weeks before it happened, Kevin had driven me up to JFK with my huge bags and kissed me goodbye as I set off to spend my junior year studying abroad in Paris, France. Kevin and I had seen the Twin Towers from a distance, of course, not knowing that the New York skyline would be altered forever in a matter of days.
     When I heard the news about 9/11, I was in the office of the director of the Hollins Abroad program. I watched her face when she received the phone call. I could tell by her stunned look something was very wrong. She told us about the first of the Twin Towers being hit. We all ran into the computer lab next to her office and tried to find out what was happening on the news. Some people were chatting with their friends who were watching the horror happen on TV. Everyone was shocked.
     Things like this weren’t supposed to happen on US soil. We were a world super power. We were the ones who sent troops overseas when other people started wars. Attacks such as this could only occur far away in time or space from us, or so we thought.
     I had only been in France for a matter of days when the terrorist attacks occurred, but I can’t imagine feeling more detached from a major event in our country’s history than I was then. That evening, my host parents were watching the news on TV, as they usually did. I sat in there with them hoping to find out something more than I knew from video clips and footage online. I had a hard time keeping up with the fast and frantic French dubbed over some language other than English. It was so frustrating and frightening.
     In some ways, I felt bad that I wasn’t at home surrounded by family and friends during the national tragedy. It was one of the times in my life that I knew when I returned home at Christmas, the country as I knew it would be different. A solidarity and patriotism spread across the country and was obvious on the news and radio. In some ways I felt that sense of unity, but in other ways, I felt as if I’d missed a major bonding experience for Americans.
     Increased security and fear were more apparent even over in France after the terrorist attacks took place. We were advised to tell anyone who asked where we were from that we were Canadian or Australian, just to be on the safe side.
     In the months to come, I got a bitter taste of the devastation felt in NYC and around the country. It wasn’t the graphic footage or the heart-wrenching stories, but visiting the areas in France that had been bombed during WWII that brought it all crashing home. Some of the churches and structures we saw had never been renovated after the attacks. The ruins, the museums, the photos and videos of places we had walked by just hours before shot through the history books, lectures, dates, and distant places. For the first time, I got a sense of how horrifying it would be to live in a place where armies were invading, bombs were being dropped, soldiers were coming in tanks…it really scared me.
     I would never claim to know how awful war is, but I’m sure that’s when I came the closest to feeling and seeing how terrifying it could be.
     I am grateful to be an American. I am thankful for all of the men and women who have fought for the freedoms I sometimes take for granted. I pledge allegiance to God, who knows all of us on the earth are His children. I pray that all who lost loved ones in wars and terrorist attacks may turn to the Lord for comfort and healing that He alone can give. God bless America, and every place else.
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