Every so often, I hear people talk about a moment in history when they can recall exactly where they were or what they were doing. The JFK assassination, the Berlin Wall, Columbine, you name it.
For me, that moment is September 11th. Every year, I find myself in disbelief that another year has passed so quickly. Just a few years ago it was a decade.
Where I was.
I was at my mother’s house in South New Jersey the morning it happened, getting ready to go help at her store. She called me at home and told me to turn on the television. I freaked out because I had many friends going to school in NYC, right near the towers.
Cell phones were still pretty new at the time, certainly a far cry from anything even close to Apple’s seemingly annual iPhone announcements. I remember trying to call my friends in NYC to no avail, going on AIM chat (remember that?) and seeing away messages of my friends siblings telling them “call home ASAP!” It was surreal and terrifying.
My teammate Scott.
But 9/11 doesn’t hit home every year ’til I think about a guy I knew named Scott Rohner. I think about him every year because he died in the attacks that day. Scott and I grew up playing basketball together in 7th grade. His father was our coach in junior high rec league (I still remember our green uniforms) and we played on our high school team together. I knew Scott for about six years.
His dad was always a big encourager to me on the basketball court, and Scott was a terrific player. His number has since been retired by our high school and his name adorns the gym. Scott and I weren’t friends per se — acquaintances would be a bit more appropriate — but we were always friendly. One of my earliest non-basketball memories with him was standing by each other one day after school when two kids were fighting. We thought it was cool.
We didn’t keep in touch after high school (Facebook didn’t exist); I didn’t even know where he went to college. The next time I heard of him was on 9/11. Scott got a job in the towers just 1 month before that day. When I think about how young he was when he died and that he had just taken a job there, it messes with me a lot. He was only 22.
I thought about writing about Scott the past few years but never did because I didn’t know if it was appropriate. We weren’t that close, after all. Or perhaps it’s because his killer was still at large. I suppose getting bin Laden brought a bit of closure, but it still…doesn’t. Every year, 9/11 reminds me that I’ve lived one more year that Scott hasn’t. It’s very sobering and strange and surreal. Still.
12 years Scott didn’t have.
If there’s anything I take away from Scott’s life, it’s really to live life and impact the people I meet. I’ve had 12 more years than he did to do so. It’s an annual reminder that we only have one life to live. There is no reset button, do-over, or mulligan.
I don’t mean any disservice to his memory to equate his legacy to a simple reminder of not taking life for granted. It’s just all I’ve got because we weren’t too much more than acquaintances. But he’s impacted me more in his death than anything we did on a basketball court, in class, or watching an after-school fight.
It makes me think about how I’ve lived. Have I made the world a better place? Lived a life worth living? Made my life count by making others count?
Approximately 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attacks; the impact of their deaths is really immeasurable. But I know at least for the people I personally know, Scott’s death has measurably impacted them even if they don’t realize it. Every 9/11, Scott reminds me to make a mark on this world.
I just wish he was around so I could tell him.