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Monday, September 11, 2006



It's been five years since that day. I was in the dentist's office that morning getting my teeth cleaned. When I turned on the radio in my car on the way to work at about 9:00 AM, I heard the news that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Weird, I thought. How does a pilot make a mistake like that. Then 5 minutes later and the report of another plane crashing into the other tower and I knew that it was no accident.

I cannot describe the feelings and thoughts running through my head that morning as I drove to work. I wanted to tell everyone in the office when I got there because everyone needed to know this. But news travels fast in the Internet age and everyone already knew by the time I got there. In fact, most people were watching the TV in the conference room. Somber was the mood for the entire day, indeed the entire week and even month.

As I reflect upon that day five years ago, I also reflect upon a couple of other days that are burned into my memory. A Defining Moment of the Times is how I've heard some journalists refer to this phenomenon. Where were you and what were you doing when the WTC was first hit? Everyone alive in this country at the time will remember forever.

My first Defining Moment came in 1963. I was 12 years old and sitting in Mr. Sweatman's 5th period Math class at Franklin Junior High School in Aurora, Illinois on November 22, 1963 when the public address system came to life and told us that President Kennedy had been shot and killed. I knew immediately that a significant historical event was taking place. They let us out of school for the remainder of the day. It was a Friday and my year-older friend, Toby Brian and I walked home from school very slowly. There was a light falling snow coming down and we were in no hurry to finish our walk home. I spent the next 3 days, school remained closed for his funeral on Monday, glued to the television watching non-stop coverage of the story including Oswald's murder in Dallas and the surreal funeral in Washington. I had campaigned for JFK in 1960 and admired and respected him for his courage and manner and the news of his death touched me forever.

Another Defining Moment was when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon in July of 1969. I was watching TV with my parents in our home in Aurora, Illinois. I had just graduated from High School the month before and I was enjoying a work-free summer and planning a trip to Woodstock in August. I took that trip but never made it further than Detroit where I spent a week partying with my nephew Mike. The moon landing and first steps were an exciting culmination of the race in space and made me feel extremely proud that we fulfilled the goal that President Kennedy had laid out for us earlier in the decade.

The next Defining Moment I remember was that cold day in January 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff. I had been working for Alachua County then for less than a year and a group of us, maybe 6 or 7, were watching the liftoff from my boss' office in downtown Gainesville, Florida. Two people were looking through binoculars and the rest of us could still see the trail of smoke climbing skyward. When one guy saw the smoke plume split apart into two distinct plumes he said, that's not right. Turn on the radio. I will never forget the solemn faces on everyone at work that day and the next fews days after. And I never think of a space flight in the same way since then.

Especially when another of these Defining Moments came in February of 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia burned up on re-entry into the atmosphere. It was the day I was to pick up my brand new 2003 Saturn Vue in Tampa. My nephew Jerry and I had driven over from Winter Garden to Tampa, I signed the papers and we were on our way back to Orlando when we stopped into a Waffle House to have breakfast. It was a Saturday morning and when we went to the counter to pay for the meal, we saw the television and heard them talking about the shuttle being disintegrated. We were each in shock that another shuttle could be lost and I drove the rest of the way to Winter Garden listening to the details on the radio.

There is no point to this blog. I have no special news nor any profound revelations to share. I am simply remembering another time when things looked and felt really, really bad. Sometimes things simply are what they are and we can only accept them and share them and even cry about them.


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