When the 9/11 attacks occurred, I was a freshman in college and living on the complete other side of the country from Ground Zero. I had no family or friends or even acquaintances caught in the crossfire. Maybe a friend of a friend knew someone who had a cousin at the World Trade Center or was a member of a fire department near New York City.
This was how I experienced that day. As something I watched unfold on the television and over the radio. Something that put everyone in the world on high alert but that alert didn’t change the fact that I had to go to work that day at my fast food job.
It wasn’t until a full year and a half later that I would fully get a lesson on how large the impact of that day would be for those who were unfortunate enough to be much closer to the event. I was taking a Music Appreciation class and it was the first day of the semester when I met him.
He was a smallish man. Dressed in a tweed coat and slacks. A fairly unkempt beard with more salt than pepper in it’s composition. He had a tempered measure in his tone and a soft demeanor in how he approached the class. He seemed almost reclusive while still being at the front of an entire lecture hall.
His name was Daryl Bodley. His job that semester was to teach us about the finer points of music through history. To tell us where it started and where it went and where it was going. He also was, as most music instructors are, a musician so he would play the piano in the corner of the lab to demonstrate technique and style.
That piano is where I learned the full weight of the September 11th attacks. Daryl apologized to the entire class saying that he was going to be dealing with a lot of grief and loss during the semester and it may cause him to lose focus at times. We learned that his daughter, Deora, was a passenger on Flight 93. The plane that crashed into a field in Pennsylvania thanks to the efforts of the crew and passengers to prevent even more death.
I learned that Deora was only 19 when she died. It struck a nerve because I was only 19. It struck a nerve because for three months I watched a man struggle to not just function, but lead and teach others. He would play compositions on the piano for the class and then have to take a beat to compose himself because he was on the verge of breaking. In those moments, my heart broke for Daryl and his estranged wife.
It was over the course of those months that 9/11 became real to me. More than just headlines and conversations and debates. It was breathing, hurting, struggling. I watched the entire spectrum unfurl and it was life-changing.
At the end of the semester, Daryl encouraged us to continue living life with full and compassionate hearts. He never once said a negative thing about anyone involved, at least not publicly and not to us impressionable minds. A few years later, Daryl died in a motorcycle accident. When I heard the news, I felt relief. Yes, it was unfortunate news but I knew he was reunited with someone who meant so much to him.
That’s when a quiet piano player taught me that these events are not just things that happen other people. They impact us all.