Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
James Edward Neal, Jr. – aka Jimmi Changa, Chocolate Hammer, Flash Cadillac – is a wise guy with a soft spot who knows how to make people laugh. This 25-year was born in Phoenix, Arizona, where he continues to live today. When watermelons are in season, you’re likely to find him tromping through the fields, hacking them open with a machete. James runs his family’s business, JEN Sales, which grows and markets perishable goods. As he explains, “How I plan to save the world: I am going to feed it (fruits and veggies). How I plan to save my world: take a profit from the above mentioned plan.”
Like many men, his passions include sports and fast cars. James said he’s always been proud to be an American and doesn’t understand why it takes tragedy to inspire patriotism. “It takes a couple of buildings coming down for people to rally around the flag,” he said. “It bothers me. It bothers me a lot.” On the morning of Sept. 11, James was hurrying out the door on his way to work when he received a call from his father notifying him of the attacks. He wrote his essay in late November.
Shortly after the attacks on Sept. 11th, my father was admitted to the hospital with some heart troubles. A month and a half has passed and the danger is over. Jimmy had a quadruple bypass and an aortic valve replacement, which has become a fairly regular procedure (amazing what Doctors can do!). The initial reaction to the terrorist attacks, coupled with my father’s health issues, caused some very powerful emotions. Seeing the mighty structure that was the WTC reduced to rubble and seeing the mightiest of people, my Dad, in such a weak physical state, I realized that nothing is invincible, including myself.
With this new and mortal view on life, the realization that the clock is ticking and that nothing is for certain, I have grown up very fast. As a result of this new frame of mind, my world looks very different to me. Gone is the feeling that something will just happen that will determine my future; now I must make my future. Everyday has become more precious to me because I see my surroundings more clearly and appreciate them so much more.
To describe what has gone through my mind since the attacks, I will use an old American saying, “Live free or Die!” Terror, especially now with my eyes as open to the world as they are, will not stop me from living my life. I know now there is risk in everything we do, from getting on a plane to receiving mail. But quite simply, I’ll be damned if anybody is going to determine my life for me. I have not yet dealt with the idea of religion and what is going to happen when I die, but before that time comes (and it will), I intend on enjoying all of the freedoms that I have to the fullest.