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The Day We Felt the Call to Serve

September 11, 2018 3 minute Read
Michelle Zook
A Stand-To participant details how she felt called to serve following 9/11.

September 11, 2001 was a very bad day.

So often over the years since, I’ve described that day as the day the music died for my generation. The night before, like many Americans, I wrapped myself in the smug assurances that I was an American and I was a Texan and no outside threat would ever be able to touch me. 

Everything changed that day.

A couple of years ago, my daughter was old enough to ask for the first time what 9/11 was really about, and so—like modern parents—my husband and I cued up the entire CNN broadcast on YouTube and let her watch it, and as she watched it, I watched her. I watched the same emotions play out on her face that must have played out on my face and the faces of those around me that day—bewilderment, betrayal, hurt, shock. And then, at the end, with the wisdom and innocence of a six-year old child, she folded her hands on the table and said, “This can’t be over yet. The bad guys can’t win, that’s not how America is.”

Her father and I tried to explain, but she only shook her head and said, “I’ll pray for them. And for us.”

At first I dismissed her response as childish and naïve.

One of the things I’ve learned in my participation in the Bush Institute’s Stand-To program is the necessity of intentionality in my choices and in my reactions. We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond.

So as time has passed, I’ve come to acknowledge more and more that she may be right.

Because as Americans, we rush in when there’s danger. As Americans, we extend a hand to serve when we see a need.  As Americans, we hope when all seems lost. It is the essence of being American, this optimism that we are the shining city on the hill, and we can bring light to a world in darkness. To honor those who died that day, we must choose to act, choose to serve, choose to hope, even if it comes at a great cost, each and every day.

September 11, 2001 was, indeed, a very bad day.

But going forward, I’ve learned I must choose to not define that day as the day the music died.

Instead, September 11, 2001, while it was a day of great sacrifice, was also the day the music began for many in my generation, when we felt the call to serve.

Thank God it is a tune that plays still.

Michelle Zook is a participant in the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program. She is the Constituent Services Manager and the Veteran Affairs Policy Lead for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.