9/11 is one of those terrible days where you remember nearly every detail of what you were doing, what you wearing, at the time you heard the news. It was after 8 o’clock, and I had just pulled up to the front of the school. I was 17 and had just received my driver’s license a month earlier; my mom would hop into the passenger’s seat and let me drive to school to give me driving experience. As I got out of the car, my dad called my mom on her cell. When she hung up, she looked up at me with a confused expression. “Dad said that two planes flew into the Twin Towers,” she said. “Wow, really?” I replied, surprised. And then, “What kind of pilots would fly into the World Trade Center? I hope everyone is okay.”
I know I’m not the only person who thought it was some terrible accident upon hearing the news; that just shows how naive we were as a country. Now, terrorism would be the first conclusion we’d jump to. Back then, terrorism was something that happened to other countries, not ours.
I said goodbye to my mom and walked inside the school. I stopped the first person I knew and said, “Did you hear about the World Trade Center?” “Yeah,” she said. “It’s terrorism.” I felt a shiver go down my back. “No way, really?” “Of course,” she replied. “There’s no way that’s an accident.” I immediately went to the computer lab to look up what had happened on the trusty internet, but that proved to be a useless task. The net was so jammed with other people getting online to look up what had happened that I couldn’t load any pages. The only thing that would load was a picture of the burning towers.
I went to my Academic Decathlon class, where my teacher had the news on. For first period, we all watched, riveted with horror. We watched the towers burn. Someone cried as they fell, but all I could feel was shock and sadness, as I knew that we were witnessing so many deaths. I felt fear as Peter Jennings talked about how the crashed Flight 93 was likely headed to the White House or Capitol. What the hell is happening to us? I thought.
As we watched the news, one of the teachers compared this to Pearl Harbor. “Really?” I asked, surprised. I had grown up hearing what a big deal Pearl Harbor was; it seemed strange to think I was living through something that historically significant too. “You wait, kid,” the teacher promised. “This is huge.”
I remember the sadness and paranoia that enveloped the country after the attacks. Immediately following the attacks, I remember feeling frustrated that I wasn’t there, that I couldn’t do anything, that I was just experiencing everything from the television. I had never visited the Trade Center. I visited Manhattan for the first time last year, and when we drove by Ground Zero, there was still a lot of construction going on around it. But I’d visited Staten Island when I was seven, and as we stood on a pier, I remember seeing the towers in the skyline. I pointed them out to my father. We still have those images on tape, for which I am grateful.
It’s undeniable that 9/11 affected New Yorkers the hardest. While we watched the terrible images on television, New Yorkers saw the towers fall with their own eyes, smelled the acrid air of the remains of the Towers, dealt with losing fathers and daughters and sisters and brothers and friends in the Towers as they fell and burned. While we all had to heal as a nation, our thoughts never left the strong and resilient New Yorkers as they started picking up the pieces. As I walked the streets of Manhattan last year, I immediately fell in the love with the fabled city I had grown up hearing about so much from my father, who had lived there in the 70s. I could not imagine being a resident there ten years ago and seeing everything first-hand, having my heart torn out by the attacks.
But there’s an insinuation by some that 9/11 shouldn’t be a big deal to those who weren’t directly affected, and that’s extremely ignorant. As an American, and as a human being, it’s impossible not to feel empathy, sadness, and reflection on every anniversary. It changed all of us. I get chills every time I think about 9/11 or see the images in print or on television. Later generations may go through this day without remembering its significance, just like how my generation never discusses the significance of December 7 each year that passes. But everyone who was alive on September 11, 2001, everyone who could remember exactly what they were doing and what they were wearing when they heard the terrible news could never let the anniversary pass without thinking of its significance, without pausing in remembrance.
I leave you with a lovely video that one of my blogging friends posted last night. A group of children visited a firehouse that had lost many men during the attacks, and sang “Empire State of Mind” to them as a tribute. It’s hard to watch without getting choked up.
I can’t believe it’s been ten years already.
To all the men and women who died that day – we will never, ever forget you. May you rest in peace.