Some tell of being in the Twin Towers, or the Pentagon, nineteen years ago. Others tell of loved ones who died. Some took part in rescues and clean up. Many, who were deployed to foreign lands to fight terrorists, were injured or killed.

But most of us were not on the scene. Instead, we watched from afar. Regardless, it is important for us to recollect what we thought and felt, because over time, we tend to lose touch with what’s important in life. When we tell our stories of 9/11, we remember that our uniquely American way of life is precious.

We need that now more than ever.

Today, call a friend, knock on a neighbor’s door, chat with someone in the street — and ask the question: “What were you doing on 9/11?” Let them tell their story, and then tell yours. Here’s mine:

Soaked in sweat after my 8:30 am step aerobics class at a Virginia Beach YMCA, I headed to the locker room. On Tuesdays, water aerobics let out at the same time, so there was always a wait for the showers. I took a seat on the wooden bench, failing to notice the hushed tone in the locker room.

Typically, the elderly women from water aerobics would be sharing stories about joint pain, and the younger women from step aerobics would be chatting about plans to take the kids to Chick-fil-A for lunch. But today, there was a serious pall over the fluorescent-lit room, steamy, tiled and windowless.

As a busy mother of three, all I could think about was getting on with the rest of my day. Lilly, 14 months, was in the YMCA’s nursery. Anna, three, was at Montessori preschool. Hayden, six, was at Fairfield Forest Elementary. My days were a blur of toaster waffles, sippy cups, school pick ups, diaper changes, packed lunches, naps, daily therapies for developmental delays, soccer practices, clipped coupons, swim lessons, cub scout meetings, chicken nuggets, baths, zippered pajamas, and bedtime stories. With a towel wrapped securely around my body, I grabbed my bag of toiletries and strode quickly to the shower area, blurting a cheerful greeting to the ladies who’d just exited, “My turn! Have a great day!”

“Lisa?” said Michelle, another Navy wife, from behind me. I turned and saw a disturbed look on her face. “Have you heard?”

“What?” I asked, holding the shower door open. Michelle got closer and spoke in a hushed tone, the same one I hadn’t noticed before.

“A United Airlines jet crashed into the World Trade Center. The building’s on fire. They think it’s a terrorist attack,” she said.

I retreated to the hot water of the shower stall, feeling confused and in shock. Involuntarily, I began to cry, as if human instinct was telling me, “This will change everything.”

Francis left a message on my cell phone, “Get the kids and go home.” Next thing I remember, I was standing in front of the television in our family room. Lilly was on my hip. Anna and Hayden were at my sides. With shaky hands, I punched buttons on the remote. The screen brightened.

Not one, but two Towers had been hit. I gasped at the terrifying footage of 110 stories of the South Tower collapsing in seconds to the ground. My free hand flew to my mouth as horrified sobs escaped, “Oh! God! No!”

As I saw more terrifying details unfold that morning, my children were not watching the television. They were looking at Mommy, their big brown eyes reflecting my fear. Our lives were forever changed.

In the days that followed, Americans banded together, inspired by the deaths of nearly 3,000 innocent victims, first responders and military personnel to volunteer, serve, fly flags, and help their communities. Today, as Americans fight each other over politics and race, we should stop to tell our 9/11 stories, no matter whether we were sitting in a McDonald’s in Minneapolis, walking a dog in Dubuque, or taking a nap in Newark. That fateful day was both terrifying and unifying — a reminder that we are one nation, home of the free and the brave.

Never forget.

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