Every few years or so, something happens that is so shocking that you feel like the world has stopped. You’re able to recall where you were, what you were doing, and just about every other sight, sound, and smell associated with the event. For me, those moments were – most recently – Obama’s nomination acceptance, the reading of the OJ Simpson verdict, and – of course – 9/11. For one, it’s my dad’s birthday so it’s not like I could ever forget it. But it was also the time that the country was forever changed.

Close to ten years to the date, I can still remember exactly what I doing when the country was under attack. I was passing through the University Center on campus, headed to class. I was talking to my dad on the phone; wishing him a happy birthday (I can’t stress enough how weird it is to celebrate something as joyous as a birthday on the same day as one of our country’s great tragedies). No sooner than I could finish my convo with him, I saw coverage of the first plane crash on one of the televisions. I remember thinking to myself that the pilot must’ve fallen asleep or was under the influence for hitting a building as large as the WTC. That was bad enough. My stomach dropped thinking about the people on the plane experiencing this. But I also imagined the sheer horror that must’ve been felt by the people in the first tower as they watched a airplane flying directly at them. Somebody was in that building preparing for a meeting. Taking orders to make a coffee run. Having a chat by the water cooler. Replying to an email. Some of the things we do at our jobs everyday. But, for them, all of that was interrupted by fear, chaos, and death. My thoughts were quickly interrupted as I saw – in living color – another plane crashing into the second building. Our fears were confirmed when reports were coming in from CNN that the Pentagon was also hit. Everything became even more real at that moment. At that moment, I think we all knew what was going on.

I remember looking around seeing other students standing around in complete shock. The gravity of the situation was now clear. We were under attack. I remember watching students tearfully embracing each other while trying to deal with their clear shock. What came next was something I never would’ve expected; nor will I ever forget: many of the forty or so students who gather around the television joined hands and prayed. Some prayed aloud; while others were silent. Some cried, others buried their heads. After being in the group for a few more minutes, I left for class. My prof apparently beat me to the punch and arrived to class early enough to leave a sign indicating that class was cancelled. So from there, I sped home to watch coverage of the event.

9/11 was memorable to me not only because of the magnitude of the attacks. But it also showed how tragedy has a unifying effect. Similar to how sporting events have the uncanny ability to bring different types of people together, watching the events of 9/11 unfold brought people of all races, classes, and backgrounds together to share in the nation’s horror and pain. In the briefest of moments, we were all on one accord.

That was nine years ago.

Today – almost a full decade since that day – the world has changed in many ways. However, in many ways, things haven’t change a bit. Many of us carry on with our lives as if 9/11 never happened. Sure, security at airports is pain in the neck (in some cases, a very intrusive pain in the neck). Not to mention the fact that our country has experienced two wars since then. But for the most part,  not a whole lot has changed for the vast majority of us…I suspect. The bigotry, intolerance, and self-centeredness we had on Sept. 10, 2001 is still very much alive and well…arguably, to a much greater extent now than ever before.

It’s for that reason that every now and then, we need a jolt to remind of us of our recent history. As we sift through the constant stream of 9/11 commericalization and politicization, it’s important for us not to lose perspective on what REALLY happened on that day. We witnessed thousands of people – whose only crimes were to travel or go to work – wiped out in a matter of minutes by fanatical zealots. Everything else is window dressing.

Our attention must stay fixed on the fathers, mothers, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents, girl friends and boyfriends who senselessly lost their lives; the brave people who put themselves in harm’s way in rescue and rebuilding efforts; the men and women in uniform protecting this nation; and the faceless victims all around the world. At a time where unity should be at its highest, it’s seemingly the complete opposite.

It’s my prayer that we won’t need another 9/11 to remind us of how we should be as humans. I also pray that those we should be honoring didn’t lose their lives in vain. Time will tell us a little something about what lessons we learned from 9/11.