The National 9/11 flag is displayed during the playing of the National Anthem before the night session of the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 11, 2011 in Indian Wells, California. The flag was destroyed in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001 and stitched back together seven years later by tornado survivors in Greensburg, Kansas. The National 9/11 Flag has become a living testament to the resilience and compassion of the American people. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
It's hard to believe that it's already been 10 years since life in the United States -- and really across the globe -- would change forever. The terrorists attacks on Sept. 11, 2011 was a direct blow to the American psyche, and was a wake-up call to USA. Because of these attacks, worry has now become an emotion ingrained in the American public. If nearly 3,000 innocent people could die without a second's notice -- plus over 6,000 U.S. military forces who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan -- then life was no longer something anybody could take for granted.
Growing up in northern New Jersey only 40 minutes from New York City, the attacks on 9/11 initially struck very hard. I realize it was an event that had nation-wide impact, but with the close proximity of where I lived to NYC, I'd imagine the chaos in the ensuing hours and days was definitely more rampant than places farther away ground zero. Ten years ago I was in seventh grade walking to English class when I found out the devastating news. My teacher had the television on with live footage of what was going on. At that time, nobody had a clue what the motive was. All I can remember, vividly, was students being sent home because a) the school was unsure what was going on and wanted everyone to be safe, and b) many had relatives or friends in NYC who could have been affected (and most likely were) .
At the time this happened, I was in shock. I thought I was living a dream. I remember coming home from school with my mom and dad being let off early, and then watching the TV the rest of the day and night. To be with your family after something like this, I remember, was very comforting.
While nobody on 9/11 in my family was directly affected, the town I live in lost a great man. He was a family friend. A huge New York Rangers fan, which we always bonded over (along with my dad).
And even though nobody in my family was lost in the attacks, I have had two cousins serve in the war directly after them, and one of them was killed four years ago in Iraq paying the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. My other cousin has been in the Air Force for seven years, and has fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is where he is currently. Not a day goes by that I don't think about his safety. And not a day goes by that I don't count down the days when he'll return home (for Christmas, and then less than half a year until he's redeployed, hopefully somewhere safer, if there is a such thing in this world).
The loss of my cousin, however, hits home extremely hard. He was 20 when he died. The other day was my 23rd birthday and I realized that I've now lived three years more than he did. He died doing what he loved, but his life was definitely too short. I never thought of 10 as being "middle-aged." A friend wrote on my Facebook wall for my birthday, "I hope you have a great day." Every day I wake up is a great day for me. With a dad who fought in Vietnam, a cousin who is in the service and another who passed away, I'd like to think I understand how precious life really is. And how easy I have it. And that no matter how much I "love" them, the true American heroes are not on my favorite sports teams, but are those preserving and protecting our freedom, and quite often paying the ultimate sacrifice to do so.
The Rangers recently participated in an event to pay tribute to NYC firehouses, and a certain one that lost 14 firefighters on 9/11. I think coach John Tortorella said it best, and I'd like to leave off with his quote:
"We're always looking for heroes in sports, the winning goal, the touchdown, but that's it there, that's the real stuff," Tortorella said as he pointed to the room honoring those who died on Sept. 11. "Players are performers. That's the real stuff there. You go through that room there, that's just amazing to me. We live in a bubble ... in the sports world we live in a bubble and that's real stuff there. They're the real heroes as far as what continues to go on as far as what they do for work. Not us."