By George Smith
Twenty years ago, September 11, 2001, I was in my second-floor office as editor and publisher of the Benton (AR) Courier when the small TV behind me blasted news about a plane hitting one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.
A few minutes later, I watched in slack-jawed horror as a second plane hit the sister tower.
We called in all reporters early and set an aggressive agenda for covering this catastrophic event from the perspective of small town America. That day I reverted to my former role as writer/photographer and got photos and quotes from folks at a local furniture store who were queued up watching a bank of TVs as events developed.
I went to several local churches and sat with strangers and prayed for those who died and the survivors. We held hands and cried together.
I called family members and told them to fill up all cars and gas cans … because … well, just because.
My heart heavy, my head pounding, I drove several miles to an isolated spot on the bank of the Ouachita River and simply sat, looking at the slow-moving water; I watched a darting dragonfly and quietly cried while I prayed.
My grandparents and parents were long gone but I hugged them in my mind, knowing for the first time how they felt on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
I felt the same depths of dread and despair and uncertainty in 2001 that I am sure every American experienced on that day almost 80 years ago.
Heading back to town, I stopped to fill up just behind a biker in full “colors”. We nodded casually and, without really thinking, the corporate me walked over to him and opened my arms. We hugged for a bit longer than strangers normally do. We patted each other on the back, macho-style, and turned away to an uncertain future.
I wish I could reclaim that feeling of brotherhood I had that day for my fellow Americans…all Americans.
That feeling, the ability to reach out and hug strangers on a silent “everything is going to be okay” is sorely needed in this nation today.
Today, find a stranger and tell him or her to have a safe and peaceful day.
That message never gets old.
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