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File | Associated Press
This photo by Robert Clark shows the explosion ripping through the South Tower of the World Trade Towers on Sept, 11, 2001.

Not the Toy Department after all

I was in the kitchen, to answer the question that is and always will be particular to this day.

I was in the kitchen, and the phone rang, and my sister said "Are you watching this?", and then I turned on the TV. They were replaying the second plane hitting the towers. And then the phone rang again and it was Craig Klugman, the editor of this newspaper, giving me my marching orders for the day: Area reaction to the single worst act of military aggression on American soil in history.

And that was my Sept. 11, 2001.

Hanging out in a hardware store in Auburn while Dan Rather's voice tolled like a bell in the background and the proprietor, trying to find some way to explain the inexplicable, dug out a scrapbook chronicling some long-ago fire that had once burned down the store.

Watching students in Walb Union at IPFW sitting on chairs and any open space on the floor, looking numbly at the TV screen with thousand-yard stares.

Visiting Trinity English Lutheran Church, which had opened its doors to anyone who wished to come in and find solace in prayer.

Coming home to find the TV still on, as it would be for the next 36 hours or so until, finally, I turned it off, unable to process anymore.

And now I look back on that day, that week, from 12 years distance, and, yes, those memories will always be with me, but so will others. Listening to Kevin Donley explain why Saint Francis' football game that weekend would go on. Standing in the press box at Adams Central that Friday night while high school football players from AC and Heritage knelt together at midfield, someone hit play on a CD player and the voice of LeeAnn Rimes rolled across the farm fields, singing "Amazing Grace."

Heading over to Saint Francis the next day, and understanding something that those who mindlessly criticized Donley's decision failed to grasp: That this wasn't about a football game, but about the simple act of coming together as a community in a time when coming together as a community was most desperately needed.

It is perhaps a trite and oversimplified thing to say, but all that week, and in the weeks after, the trivialities of life -- and, yes, football is one of those, and baseball, and all our games -- took on a value that was in no way trivial at all. They represented (and in a sense celebrated) normality, after all, in a time that was so far removed from normal that we would never really know "normal" again.

Not even to this day, 12 years later, is this country in any way "normal," or at least what we believed was normal for the 225 years of our national existence prior to 9/11. We are literally a different country now, with different values and different perceptions of what is right and wrong. Some of the things we do now in the interests of national security only those on the farthest fringes of the political spectrum would have ever advocated before that blue-sky day in September.

And so, our games. Our trivialities. Our holding fast, together, to the old verities: Play for the win on the road and the tie at home, never throw late into double coverage, make 'em foul and then hit the free throws.

And no stupid penalties, either. You pay a steep price for them. And God knows, on this day in particular, we know a thing or two about steep prices.

Ben Smith's blog.