Where were you when the world stopped turning?

That song by Alan Jackson has played in my head all week, and as we pause to remember the horrors and tragedy of 9-11 this year in the midst of a devastating pandemic, the song takes on new meaning.

Written only months after the attack that killed almost 3,000 people, the song asks, “Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke rising against that blue sky? Did you shout out in anger in fear for your neighbor or did you just sit down and cry?”

All of us lost something that day of an attack on U.S. soil when the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks on the heart and soul of the United States.

All of us remember where we were as we watched in horror on live television the second of two planes flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and we realized this was no accident.

As reports of a third plane hitting the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and a fourth plane crashing in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, were broadcast the implications were clear. We were under attack in our great country.

No matter what is happening in our world today, we must not forget 9-11 and those who were lost and those who were heroes.

“Did you burst out with pride for the red, white and blue and the heroes who died just doing what they do?,” Jackson continues. “Did you look up to heaven for some kind of answer and look at yourself and what really matters?

“Did you weep for the children who lost their dear loved ones, pray for the ones who don’t know? Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble and sob for the ones left below?”

Yes, we wept that day.

I worked at the local radio station on Sept. 11, 2001. I can still vividly remember watching the towers be hit by those planes on my television as I got ready for work, dropping everything to hurry in where our two stations were on the air. We switched to our AP news and carried it the rest of the day.

Together, we as staff huddled by the control room, watching the TV monitor there through the glass as the first tower went down, and we were hit by the realization that the second would be quick to follow, turning into dust and taking all who were trapped inside.

“Did you feel guilty ‘cause you’re a survivor, in a crowded room did you feel alone? Did you call up your mother and tell her you loved her? Did you dust off that Bible at home? Did you open your eyes, hope it never happened, close your eyes and not go to sleep?”

But in the days that followed, something miraculous happened. We began to pull together as a nation and as people. Our resolve to not live in fear, our appreciation of the small things, our faith and our love of family all began to shine through, and we knew we would survive.

“Did you notice the sunset the first time in ages or speak to some stranger on the street? Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow, go out and buy you a gun? Did you turn off that violent old movie you’re watching’ and turn on ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns?,” Jackson queries in his song.

“Did you go to a church and hold hands with some strangers, stand in line and give your own blood? Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family? Thank God you had somebody to love?”

I don’t always listen to country music, but to me this song transcends any one genre. The lyrics are a moving ode to our nation and our people, a poem that stands the test of time.

Jackson continues: “I’m just a singer of simple songs, I’m not a real political man. I watch CNN, but I’m not sure I can tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran. But I know Jesus and I talk to God and I remember this from when I was young — Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us, and the greatest is love.”

We promised then to never to forget. In these uncertain times, when it seems as though our world has stopped and we don’t know how to right it, it is more important than ever to remember that Americans are a people of resilience and survival.

And that we do it best when we all come together. Let’s not forget and let’s continue to have hearts full of love for each other, for everyone who calls this country home. We may be different, but we are also the same.

Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?

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Rebecca Johnston is a native of Cherokee County and a retired managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.

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