A Birthday to Remember

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— It was 6:53 a.m. on Sept. 11, 1979 that my mother brought me into this world.

It was 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001 that my life was changed forever.

I remember that morning as if it were yesterday. My mom was at work and I was asleep in her bed.

I had graduated from college less than two weeks earlier. I was back home in Euclid, Ohio, and my world was turned upside down. What happened to my room? My former life?

Where will I work? What will I do? How can I go back home after four years of independence?

I found a temporary job at a tiny neighborhood bar and grill. I set up camp in my former room and slept anywhere I could find space usually on the couch.

On this particular morning, I awoke to the sound of my mother's voice on the answering machine. I pulled the covers over my head and proceeded to go back to sleep.

After all, it was my birthday.

But something about her voice that morning made me take notice.

"Melissa it's Mom," she said. "I know you are sleeping, but you have to get up. A plane hit the World Trade Center. Something is terribly wrong."

For a minute, I thought I was dreaming. But no such luck. I jumped out of bed and turned on the TV, and there it was. The second plane hit. What is going on? Is it an accident? Or is it something more? Terrorism? No way. We're America, right? Things like this don't happen.

I called my Mom, my Dad, my Grandma and Grandpa. My friend traveling overseas.

The phone lines were jammed, and it was near impossible getting in touch with any of them.

I muscled up the energy to make it into the shower so I could get to work on time and find someone to soak this all in with. By the time I made the 5-minute commute from my house to the bar, the Pentagon had been struck and another plane was at-large.

An hour later the unaccounted-for plane was spotted near Cleveland Hopkins Airport.

Downtown was evacuated. Offices were closed. Kids were sent home from school. Shortly after, the plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.

Thank God it is over I thought.

Or was it?

The rest of the day, I, along with 10 or so other patrons, took comfort in each other's company as we endured endless hours of TV coverage of lives lost and lives saved and of countless conversations of what happened and what's next.

Not once did I think about myself, or my birthday.

Exactly one year has passed and a lot has changed.

I am a year older. I am also braver, wiser, and stronger.

I have learned not to take life for granted and to appreciate my surroundings, even if it is with Mom and Dad in Euclid.

There were plenty of times after Sept. 11 when I thought I would never find a "real" job, when I doubted the power of a college education. I sent out more resumes than anyone would care to count. With an already strained job market becoming much more so after the attacks, my dreams to leave Ohio behind and go to work at a newspaper seemed to take a back seat.

But one year later, I am a firm believer in two things.

First, dreams do come true.

Almost six months later, I moved across the country to Steamboat Springs to do exactly what I've always wanted to do.

On any given day I can step outside my door and admire the beautiful backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. I can hike in the summer and ski in the winter.

Second, everything happens for a reason. We have suffered a great deal but we have also grown as people and as a nation.

On Nov. 30, 2001, I took a trip to New York City.

I wasn't sure how I would feel if I went to the WTC site or if I should even go at all.

Something about going there made me feel voyeuristic and morbid; after all, it was a tomb to thousands of innocent people.

But I went to the site and I think it is important for other people to do so too. The energy that surrounded the hallowed grounds was unlike anything I have ever felt. It is such a powerful experience seeing the destruction firsthand. It is something that surely cannot be conveyed on a TV screen or in a newspaper article.

What was even more powerful was the courage and dedication of the police force, firefighters and countless volunteers who, still, after two months, approached the site as if it were their first day on the job.

Do you have any idea how many times in the last year people have told me how sorry they are that Sept. 11 is my birthday?

But I'm stuck with it, and instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for myself today, I am going to go out and enjoy the mountains and reflect on what is perfect about this day and all the wonderful people and things I have that make life worthwhile.

God bless America and the heroes and victims that teach us important lessons everyday.

May we never forget.

Melissa Hoppert is a copy editor for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. She is the former sports editor for the Ohio State University newspaper.

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