We all think we remember exactly what happened one awful morning 18 years ago when reports started trickling in of a terror attack on our airspace. How many airplanes were hijacked? (Was it 6? 10?) How many hijackers? 20? 19? 25? Did you see the tower(s) get hit? The first one? The second one? Here's the thing. You probably did see the second tower get hit. But if you can't remember if you saw it live or on rerun, you're not alone. Our mind plays games with our memories and fills in the gaps, to the point that we can't separate vision from hearsay. I was a young yeshivah student in the Chabad Yeshivha in Toronto, when we, too, heard during breakfast that the twin towers were hit. Now let me give you a bit of background n the Yeshiva environment: In the Yeshiva, there was no TVs. No radios. No newspapers. No magazines. We were In yeshiva for one thing, and one thing only: to be immersed in an intense Torah-study environment. So when the first rumors started flying, dozens of students flocked to the yeshiva custodian's car outside to hear what was going on. They were all trying to piece together the horror 500 miles south in New York City, which for many students was home. When 10:45 AM came, on a normal day, we'd all head downstairs to the large study hall, pull out our books, and get into it for the next 3 hours. But today was different. The books waited for us for quite a few hours, until we realized the radio reports were repeating the same thing every 5 minutes. Now there was one guy, let's call him Shimmi. This Shimmi guy was a guy like everyone else. He knew how to have fun when the time called for it. But today he was different. Unlike all of us who crowded around trying to catch a few words on the radio, Shimmi was inside. When 10:45 came, his book was on the table. He was leaning over it in classic Yeshiva pose, trying to study like any other day. Afterwards I asked Shimmi how he was able to maintain his focus and continue studying during such a time. his simple answer is burnished inside me to this very day. In his words: "tell me, one more guy listening to the radio, who is it going to help? Certainly the victims won't benefit from it. I'll get all the details at 2:15" (when we'd break for lunch). My heart burned with envy. Why couldn't I be like Shimmi? Why couldn't I focus on the task at hand and study like the schedule called for? Every year, on 9/11, I recall this conversation. I'm not a better person for listening to 3 hours of audio horror. But I am better off for seeing Shimmi keep his eye on the prize.
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