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How 9-11 Unfolded In Small Town Oklahoma

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In the ultra-political world we live in now, it’s weird looking back on how innocent a day September 11, 2001 was. While it wasn’t perfect, we certainly weren’t the 24 hour news cycle infotainment consumers we’ve become today.

I remember waking up and turning on the TV to the first tower burning. It was my first semester of college, so I was pretty cynical even then, thinking to myself how stupid a pilot would have to be to accidentally crash into a massive tower. Sitting there on the edge of my bed, lacing up my shoes, getting ready for class, the second plane hit. Suddenly, that sense of vulnerability that hit most people hit me.

Of course, I still had to hop across campus for my psychology class. I distinctly remember studying all weekend for our first test of the year. But as the realization of what was happening crashed over the public, I don’t remember having a single thought in my head yet. Just processing as an 18 year old who was seeing the world outside of ‘home’ for the first time.

I left for class early enough to hit the student union for some breakfast, naturally looking to chat with others about what was happening. Everyone I came across had the same dumbfounded look on their face as I did. Going through the motions of a normal day, but trying to process what was going on in the background.

Almost an hour into the events of that day, I remember walking into class and sitting down at a desk in the back row. I was a slacker, it was my normal place. Others streamed in and took their chairs. Nobody talked. It was dead silent. Everything was awkward.

Finally, our professor walked in to deliver his thoughts. The test was cancelled, class was dismissed, and he was opening his doors to anybody that needed to talk. That was the moment the heaviness of what happened hit all of us. 9-11 was a huge moment in all of our young lives, and none of us knew how to feel yet.

Some stayed in class as most left. I went looking for my newly found college friends. We all ended up in the smoking section of the student union. Casually talking smack, nervously chain smoking off brand cigarettes, watching the coverage. Out of nowhere, the first tower started to fall into a billowing cloud of dust.

In complete disbelief, the silence returned.

Some started crying. Others got angry. We just sat there and watched with the world as the other building fell soon after.

Even though we were still too young to have experienced the world, we all knew everything had instantly changed. As relative strangers, we collectively grew up in those moments shared in a smokey student union in Tonkawa, Oklahoma.

In the weeks after 9-11, the world saw something new. A very diverse country of a few hundred origins and nationalities come together to form one. As we witnessed the worst in some men, it somehow brought out the best in all of us. No race, no religion, no politics. We all walked tall as Americans.

It lasted a few years, but as time heals old wounds, it also allows other wounds to fester. Looking back now, almost half a lifetime ago, it’s hard to believe where we’ve ended up.


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