In college, I had a great couch. It was comfortable, long enough to sleep on, and (most importantly) didn't stink.
Many nights, that couch served as my bed my senior year. In my final year of college, "bed time" usually ended with AM, and there were books and magazines open (Playstation on). I played football in college for three years, was the sports editor of the newspaper and had a radio show at night. Beyond classes and other activities, I was a 21-year-old college senior that enjoyed life.
One of the nights I
passed out fell asleep on that wonderful couch was September 10th, 2001. I had a light schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays that semester, so I woke up whenever the sun or a loud noise forced my eyes open. On September 11, I woke up at about 8:30 AM ET, brushed my teeth, and sat down with a cup of coffee to see what "Good Morning America" had to tell me about the world.
My eyes were still foggy and I was still waking up when the tone on my television screen changed. Suddenly I didn't need a strong cup of coffee to get my attention. There was smoke pouring out of the side of a building, and I watched in horror as a second plane hit the tower next to it.
You know the rest of the story from that morning. Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center buildings in New York, one into the Pentagon, and one into a field in Pennsylvania. Many lives were lost.
As I sat and stared in disbelief at my television screen, I know that no "Good Morning America" had ever changed my world that much.
This is where my story from that day becomes personal.
The first phone call I made was home to my mom in Chicago. My parents and brother, who was in Michigan in college at the time, were all fine.
My next phone call was to one of my best friends... at the Naval Academy.
He knew as much as I did, but his life was changing faster than mine. After a few hectic moments of conversation, I told him I would pray for him and hung up the phone not knowing how or where my friend was going.
That friend is still an officer in the Navy, and continues to serve our country. I still pray for him every day.
The immediate pain, and fear, from that day has stayed in my thoughts since then. As is the case with many folks, the idea that we're at war is constant, but if the bullets aren't flying past your house it's hard to remember every day that there's fighting going on. But last year I was reminded, again, that we are still battling.
Another friend of mine, who was on the swim team at Hinsdale Central High School in the late 1990s with the friend in the Navy and myself, enlisted a couple years back. In June of last year I received word that he had been killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. He was a great man, and had an incredible sense of humor. And yet, in the middle of last summer, he left a wife and three young kids behind.
For the second time, this war brought tears to my eyes. In October of last year, some of his best friends put together a fundraiser in Burr Ridge to raise money to help his family. While we were able to help them out with some day-t0-day expenses, the term "cost of living" took on a completely different context.
On Saturday, I will attend a bachelor party for another great friend. It will be a
ridiculous wild fun celebration. But one of the men that should be there isn't available. The younger brother of that friend is currently somewhere in Afghanistan, fighting to protect our ability to run around the city of Chicago acting like idiots.
There will be a striking memorial in New York, and Washington, and Pennsylvania. But I live in Chicago. When I wake up on Sunday, there will be a Bears game to watch and the business of life to deal with. But as I look at my wife and two little sons, and sober up from having a great time on Saturday night, I'll be thinking of James, and Gunnar, and Toph.
I hope every day that I enjoy Veterans Day with two of these brothers many more times than I have to spend Memorial Day praying for the wife and three kids of the other. God bless, and please protect, our military.