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Then and now: Young adults remember 9/11

A UMNS Feature By Barbara Dunlap-Berg*
5:00 P.M. ET Sept. 2, 2011

If you were a child or youth in 2001, how did the events of Sept. 11 affect your life? We posed that question and heard back from several young adults. Here are their stories.

Joseph Kurt Alexander

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In 2001, Joseph Kurt Alexander, was 12 and living in Greeley, Colo.

"When 9/11 happened," he recalled, "it suddenly brought the possibility of death into American life - something present everywhere else in the world but not so much recognized here."

Almost overnight, the seventh-grader realized he was part of something greater than he was. Ten years later, Alexander continues to "pursue the sense of belonging and purpose &ellipsis; shared with others in the wake of the attacks."

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Alexander first found solace in what he termed "the patriotic movement (God bless America, kill the terrorists, Jesus loves us more than you)." Now, however, he is comforted by Christianity as portrayed in the Bible, not a "form of Christianity that ultimately sets America in the place of God."

He said 9/11 influenced him more in recent years than when it happened. "I look back at that event and still feel sadness, but the magnitude of the attack now seems dwarfed when compared to recent events" such as earthquakes in Haiti and Japan and turmoil in the Arab world.

Now residing in Nashville, Tenn., where he attends McKendree United Methodist Church, he describes himself as "a recent college graduate, whose only concrete aspirations are to do no harm, do good and stay in love with God."

 
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The Rev. G. Alan Brown II

A 22-year-old student at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn., G. Alan Brown was serving as the pastor of a small-membership United Methodist congregation in Wartrace, Tenn., in 2001.

When the first plane hit the first tower, Brown was in a surgery waiting room with a church family. "There was this great sense of shock and fear." A prayer service that evening drew "people from many different denominational backgrounds as we prayed for our nation, for the families &ellipsis; experiencing loss, for the people &ellipsis; still missing and for those who would use violence and fear as tools.

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"The ancient worship patterns and sacraments of the church - even in the midst of turmoil - proved to be an anchor," he said. "I found reassurance in the small-group conversations that were held around tables in restaurants (and) classrooms and youth group meetings."

Brown, now the lead pastor of Hayes Memorial United Methodist Church in Fremont, Ohio, was already a pre-seminary/church vocations major, so the events of 9/11 did not change his vocational calling. However, he realized the important role spiritual leaders play in times of national and cultural crisis.

That day also made him realize the importance of thinking about life, politics and culture from a global perspective and motivated him to study Middle Eastern culture; the religion of Islam; and relations between Christians, Jews and Muslims.

"I also witnessed a great sense of renewed patriotism in American culture and witnessed both the positive and negative effects of this in the church."

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Megan Elizabeth Cobb

"Most of us probably remember where we were when two hijacked planes flew into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001," Megan Cobb recalled. She was a senior in high school, dating the boy up the street and looking forward to college.

Megan and A.J. Cobb were high school sweethearts. He asked her out for the first time on her 16th birthday. At the end of the evening, A.J. told his mom, "I'm going to marry her."

"I think A.J. always knew he wanted to serve in the Army, but I also believe 9/11 influenced his decision even more," Megan said. "He said he would sacrifice time away from home so that the United States could remain safe and free for others."

He served two tours with the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky. The first was in 2004 in Afghanistan. A.J. and Megan became engaged in the summer of 2006, planning to be married the next year. Then they decided to get married right away, before he deployed to Iraq for a year. He served nearly 15 months in Iraq because his tour was extended.

Soon after he returned home, Megan became pregnant with their daughter. The baby was due Sept. 30, 2008. When Megan went to the doctor on Sept. 10, he told her the baby probably would arrive early.

Megan called her mom that night "I don't want to have my baby on Sept. 11," she said.

However, Megan continued, "Mom assured me that once I went into labor, I wouldn't care when that baby arrived!"

Sure enough, early on the morning of Sept. 11, 2008, Cadence Bailey Cobb arrived. Now almost 3, she continues to amaze her parents.

"When Cadence is older," Megan said, "we'll tell her about 9/11 and how, for us - seven years later - she turned a bad date in American history into one of the best days of our lives."

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Luke Eastin

In September 2001, Luke Eastin lived in Glasford, a village near Peoria, Ill.

"I was in sixth grade, played basketball and went to Illini Bluffs Middle School, and really, I didn't know a whole lot about politics or anything like that," Eastin began.

Hearing about the first plane flying into the World Trade Center, the teacher turned on the TV, and the class watched as the second plane hit the South Tower.

"A few of my classmates were extremely upset, crying, and I really had no idea what was going on," Eastin said. "I was just kind of in shock. I was very surprised they'd even be showing that to us at school, honestly. Even in sixth grade, I was aware it was probably not a good thing to show young kids."

That evening, Eastin's parents explained what had happened that day.

"I got a little scared, but not to a point where I was afraid for my life or anything. But my parents were probably where I got my reassurance that everything was OK."

Fast-forward to 2011. Today Eastin studies political science at Eastern Illinois University.

"I'm not sure whether the Sept. 11 attack actually had an effect on my career choice," he said, "but with all of the issues surrounding the Middle East and the United States, I think it probably did."

Through classes in philosophy and history and learning about core religions in other cultures, Eastin said he has become more aware of other viewpoints. "I take a step back to a third person's perspective. &ellipsis; And I can sort of understand (the rationale behind the attacks)."

A United Methodist preacher's kid, Eastin interned at the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and married the daughter of a Baptist preacher.

As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Eastin said he would pass his adult wisdom to today's children.

"I would say not to be afraid," he continued. "This country is very secure. I would explain to them that the United States is the safest place on &ellipsis; Earth."

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John Henderson

Lodi, a small community in northeast Ohio, was home to sixth-grader John Henderson and his parents in September 2001.

"I remember exactly where I was when I found out about what had happened," Henderson said. "I had gotten off the bus after a day at school." The staff at his school had opted not to tell the children, so he had no idea what had happened earlier in the day.

"My neighbor, a good friend who was a year older than I, yelled across the street and asked if I had heard about what had happened. I said 'no,' and she told me to talk to my parents." When his dad, an electrical lineman, arrived home, they turned on the TV.

"I can remember sitting there, watching coverage all night long." His parents offered their only child comfort and reassurance. "I don't remember asking many questions, but I think I was reassured by the fact that the country was coming together &ellipsis; and supporting one another."

Now a student at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, and a member of Lodi United Methodist Church, Henderson said 9/11 changed the way we live.

"It affected how we, as a country, respond to tragic situations," he said. Heightened airport security is a norm today, and cultural perceptions continue to be challenged.

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"I don't believe the events of 9/11 have affected me as dramatically as they have others," Henderson added. "I have a cousin who served in Afghanistan, but even that was not a direct impact on my day-to-day activities."

He credits 9/11 with increasing his global awareness and his belief in the importance of community.

"If there is any way the events of 9/11 have affected me, it would probably be in the way I view social issues and my desire for knowledge of current events and interest in politics," he said.

While 9/11at first made the United States more united, he said, that's not necessarily the case in 2011.

"Looking at our country now and comparing it to the days following 9/11," Henderson observed, "I see a very different place. With all the tragedy and heartache that came that day, there was also a strong sense of patriotism and togetherness. Many divisions were put aside.

"As an individual, I highly value this way of living. Without realizing it, I think the events of 9/11 increased the value I place on community and team interaction."

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Connor Kenaston

"I was in the fourth grade on Sept, 11, 2001," Connor Kenaston recalled.His dad was the pastor at Wayside United Methodist Church in Vienna, W. Va.

While he knew no one who had a personal connection to those who died that tragic day, Kenaston remembers 9/11 having an impact on his faith. "Even at a young age," he said, "I remember questioning God on why. Why did all those people have to die?"

But, he said, his faith was important in the healing process.

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"I remember playing a soccer game that night, and trying to encourage my teammates (and some of their parents) not to jump to conclusions about who was the cause of it all, particularly conclusions that were results of prejudice and fear.

"I have a greater appreciation for my own life because of 9/11," Kenaston continued. "Though it hasn't been a quick or easy process, I've learned that sometimes I do not have the capacity to understand why."

Today, Kenaston is a sophomore at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. His hometown is Lewisburg, W. Va. He is a member of Lewisburg United Methodist Church, where his father is senior pastor. He recently was elected a lay delegate to the 2012 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference.

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Gretchen Nelson

Living in Salem, Ore. - 3,000 miles from New York City - Gretchen Nelson first heard of the Twin Towers and the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. She was 14 and in her first year of high school.

"Living on the opposite coast," she admitted, "I didn't think the whole thing would affect me much. I think the biggest influence was that my dad was on a business trip in California, and I was worried about how he would get back home since no planes were flying for a few days."

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Her church family at Faith United Methodist in Troutdale, Ore., offered comfort and reassurance to people of all ages, and that helped young Nelson.

"I think the biggest effect of 9/11 on my attitude," she said, "was that it made me more aware of events going on in the world around me &ellipsis; not only in how those events related to me, but also improving my general knowledge."

Hailing from a close-knit family, Nelson chose a college close to home. She did her undergrad work at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash.

Now she is a graduate student at Simmons College in Boston. She is studying library science and children's literature.

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Felicia Park

"I was in seventh-grade history class," on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Felicia Park recalled.

It was routine for the class to watch the news, so the teacher pulled out the TV, preparing for an ordinary day.

However, "right when she turned it on," Park said, "the Pentagon was hit." Even though the students lived in Germantown, Md. - less than an hour's drive from the nation's capital - the teacher had to explain that the Pentagon was the military headquarters for the United States.

"At the time, we didn't know the Twin Towers in New York had already been hit."

Park's mother was a professor at United Methodist-related Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and her father served as pastor of Fairhaven Parish United Methodist Church in Gaithersburg, Md. She figured her dad was OK but worried about her mom's safety.

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When school dismissed early, the Rev. Park picked up his daughter and assured her that her mother was fine.

Because Park already associated with people from many cultures, she said 9/11 did not affect her beliefs or how she related to people. "I had a lot of friends who are of Middle Eastern descent, but they, like me, were born in the United States."

Since she was so young at the time, Park admitted she was "clueless" about politics. She spent time with her friends who shared her opinion that 9/11 was "a horrible tragedy" and tried to serve as a buffer for friends who, because of 9/11, "got picked on."

One's ethnicity, Park said, "shouldn't determine how people treat you."

Now a senior biology major at United Methodist-related Drew University in Madison, N.J., Park hopes eventually to land a job with the Environmental Protection Agency or another ecology-based company.

Reflecting on the terrorist attack 10 years ago, she said, "9/11 strengthened my sense of community among other Christians."

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Lindsey Solomon

When 9/11 shook the United States, high school sophomore Lindsey Solomon was living with her parents and sister in Greeneville, in eastern Tennessee.

"I was serving as a teaching assistant on an off-day in driver's education," she recalled."While grading chemistry papers in my favorite teacher's office, I received a phone call from a biology teacher who was home on maternity leave. The message was succinct: 'Ask Mrs. Thompson to turn on the TV.'

"I followed my instructions, and the typical school day abruptly stopped. The entire class was horrified and mesmerized. The first plane confused me - I thought that it all had to be a mistake and thought how horrible that someone accidentally flew a plane into one of the towers. The second plane brought fear."

That day pushed the teenager to explore questions of faith.

"Though I didn't know anyone who died during the 9/11 attacks," she said, "an event of that magnitude raised questions for God in my mind.My faith community and personal investigation gave me permission to ask questions and to approach my faith in a more mature way than I'd had reason to tackle before. It helped me to know that sometimes answers are not as important as the exploration. Most importantly, it taught me that exploration is OK."

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Solomon found immediate comfort and reassurance in her fellow classmates. "The shock of the event brought us closer." Her parents helped calm fears that something would happen at home, though no one really knew the scope of the day at the time. "On a more personal level," she added, "I found comfort in my faith, even while asking God how something like this could happen."

However, Solomon's sense of security was cracked, she admitted. "As a young person living in a small town, it was easy to feel protected from hatred and destruction and the potential harm of the world. I was unaware of suicide bombers. Travel became more ominous. I learned that someone can hate thousands of strangers so much that they are willing to kill themselves to bring catastrophic harm.

"Some of the crueler aspects of human nature were exposed, but not only through the terrorists of the day. I came to know that &ellipsis; individuals can develop nonsensical hatred for an entire group of people, lumping them together into a pot of darkness."

Today, Solomon is a professional communicator and full-time art lover living in Nashville, Tenn. She attends Belmont United Methodist Church.

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Dakota Staren

Dakota Staren was a second-grader living in Scottsdale, Ariz, 10 years ago and is the youngest of those who responded. Now she is a high school senior.

"I was really young at the time," she recalled, "so I didn't understand what was going on." However, when she saw how adults were acting, she took notice. "I started asking questions about why people would do this to us, and what made them feel so strongly that it made them want to kill others.

"I think it made me more aware of the world around me (and) opened my eyes to realize all people need to be tolerant of one another because no one deserves to die."

For a while, Staren was afraid of another terrorist attack. "But I realized that even if it did happen," she said, "God will always show the rainbow at the end of the storm."

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Staren believes 9/11 influenced her future goals.

"When I graduate from high school and college, I want to go into the Peace Corps, and do things that promote world peace, social justice and world acceptance.

"I always thought it was wrong to kill so many people to make just one point, so I want people to know there are other ways of showing their views and opinions."

A member of Asbury United Methodist Church in Phoenix, Staren lives today in Glendale, Ariz. Active in the Desert Southwest Annual (regional) Conference, she vows "never to stop pursuing equality and justice for all people."

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Kliphton Joel Taylor

At the time of the 9/11 attack, Kliphton Joel Taylor, 9, was living in Austin, Texas, with his mother and brother.

"The first thing that came to mind when I heard that two of the tallest buildings in the world were demolished by airplanes was: 'Oh, my gosh! I am never getting on a plane,'" Taylor said. "I was young. I did not know how to handle it.

"But as I got older, I began to realize just how much that event significantly altered the lives of every individual in the United States. The attack on 9/11 did not scare me at the time of occurrence, but it surely had an effect on my perception of all airports and planes themselves. In addition, I began to harbor a fear offoreigners."

Taylor's family, always close-knit, found solace in each other.

"I learned to be more careful in all situations that involve (me) and people I do not know," Taylor said. "When I was younger, my mother always instructed me and my brother never to speak to strangers - that piece of advice helped meimmensely. As a realist, I tend to lean more toward the practical side of things; it takes quite a bit of evidence and perception for me to look on the sunnier side."

Today, Taylor is fulfilling his dream of attending a historically black college and becoming an author of prose and creative nonfiction. He is a student at United Methodist-related Huston-Tillotson University in his hometown of Austin.

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Emalee Weidemann

In late August 2001, Emalee Weidemann moved from Glenview, Ill., to New York City. She lived in a New York University dorm at the corner of 10th and Broadway, with three other young women. It was her first semester at college.

On Sept. 11, everything changed.

"All of a sudden," she said, "it felt like someone had attacked 'my' city. It was surreal. I think it also fostered some more independence in me. My parents were in Chicago, so I just had to cope. There was no other choice."

Weidemann and her new friends bonded. "We had to create our own support team out of people who were practically strangers," she recalled.

She found comfort in her friends and family in New York and elsewhere.

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"It helped to be somewhere like New York with such a diverse population," Weidemann said. "I think it lowered the amount of prejudice and fear that people have told me they experienced in other parts of the country. It was easier to remind yourself that this violence was done by specific people and not groups of people. That, in itself, was a comforting reminder."

Today Weidemann lives in Charlotte, N.C. She is pursuing her Ph. D. in clinical health psychology. While 9/11 didn't directly influence her career choice, she said it stimulated her interest in cultural issues related to psychology.

Asked if 9/11 influenced her attitude about life, Weidemann replied, "It's hard to tell because at the age of 18, your attitude about life is constantly changing and redefining and changing again. At that time in my, life I became so curious about religions across the globe and how people do things in other places."

The event also raised her awareness of - and interest in - politics."That was never something I paid attention to before and is now something that I try to stay (at least partially) informed about."

See complete coverage of the 9/11 anniversary

*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn. Respondent Megan Cobb is Dunlap-Berg's daughter.

News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5489 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

 

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