After enduring two bleacher-clearing bouts with lightning and a fourth-quarter letdown that allowed Tennessee to escape with a sloppy victory, my friend Shane and I set out to return to Carlisle, where he had a sermon to deliver on Sunday morning. My familiarity with Fayetteville then not being what it is now, and exacerbated by a distracted copilot, driving rain, and unprecedented vehicular volume, I failed spectacularly in guiding my little Chevy Malibu toward Interstate 540. Long story short, we got lost and ended up taking the Pig Trail.
I remember how long we seemed to be on that highway. Inching down the mountain in the fog and the rain, certain that the next corkscrew curve would be the one blocked by a fallen tree. We had certainly succeeded in removing ourselves from the unprecedented traffic volume. From the time we passed Elkins until we reached Interstate 40 in Ozark, we didn't see a single car. Not one.
The interstate wasn't any better. I'm pretty sure I had the only vehicle on the road that night that was not an SUV. Due to road construction, the highway was only one narrow lane for long stretches, and the rain and fatigue quickly made a bad situation worse. My wipers were fighting a losing battle, and all those SUVs with plenty of ground clearance passed me in an endless parade of road spray, forcing me to slow down even further. It seems dramatic, but I was genuinely scared for our safety. I simply couldn't see, and the construction prevented stopping. Finally, around Conway, the rain stopped and the traffic lessened, and I was able to loosen my death grip on the steering wheel for the last hour of our journey. We pulled into the driveway of Shane's parsonage at 4:00 a.m., and I promptly fell asleep on the steering wheel. When I woke up Sunday, I immediately placed September 8, 2001 as one of the worst days of my life.
I had no idea a big, ugly shadow named Perspective was breathing down my neck.
It seems to me that we all go through life wearing different lenses. At any given time, a person could be wearing any number of these lenses Some are transparent, while others are a little more opaque. Some we can choose to put on or take off at our leisure, while others, like the terrorist attacks of 9/11, cast their tint on our outlook with a haunting permanence. After ten years, this lens has faded from a dark,choking, charcoal grey to a lighter hue. After a decade, the fear emanating from this lens has, for the most part, subsided. Now, it offers clarity and depth, serving as a largely unseen sentinel in the background of our lives.
We have a lens for football, too. Or, at least I do. Big and bright and Razorback red, it dominates my perspective when I'm wearing it, which is most of the time between August and February. It colors my life for an entire six months, getting me through the workweek and repurposing my calendar. Thanksgiving isn't Thanksgiving anymore so much as it's the day before the LSU game. I LOVE this lens. Live for this lens.
This Saturday, fans at War Memorial Stadium will have a unique opportunity to juxtapose their memories of that tragic day ten years ago with all the passion and excitement that they hold for the Razorbacks on game day. The event is titled Razorbacks Remember. An opportunity to reflect on what we lost and how we grew. I do not know exactly what to expect, but I suspect it will be moving. There's a flyover planned, along with a patriotic Razorback logo, and a coordinated attempt for game attendees to dress in the colors of our flag. But really, instead of the planes and the songs and the paint, all they really need do is ask. Right?
I understand the need felt by the university to make some acknowledgement of the anniversary of that horrific day, and I am quite honestly anxious to participate. Hopefully it will be a cathartic exercise, serving to cleanse any residue of that dark, terror-stricken lens that seemed lacquered over everyone in the weeks and months that followed. I know how big and bright my football lens can be, and I recall how it and every other lens was completely snuffed out by those terrorists. For a while, at least, palatial new stadiums and ulcer-inducing roadtrips were forgotten. Everything... EVERYTHING was seen through the filter of 9/11.
This Razorback remembers. How could anyone forget?