If you are over the age of 22 or 23, today is the day you tell your story of “where you were”. Its hard to believe its been 18 years since I was pulling into the parking lot of Blackman High School for another day of my junior year in high-school. We were listening to the radio and the short news break in between songs said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. I remember my mom gasping, “oh my God!” when she heard the news. “How in the world does a plane hit that big of a tower?” I shrugged my shoulders, more willing to assume that it hadn’t been intentional, “Maybe they got off course or just had an accident?” She quickly replied, “There’s no way you can accidentally hit the World Trade Center. Its huge.” She rounded the corner to drop me off and I got out of the car like every other day, “love you Mom.”, closed the door and walked into school.
It wasn’t until the end of our first period of class that we understood what was happening that day was an act of terrorism. In a world with no cell-phones and no text-messages, we were glued to the TVs and live coverage. In our second period, we saw the buildings collapse. By the third period, we were braced for where the next point of impact was going to land.
I remember walking the halls from class to class that day, so silent and somber. In a school of about 2000 students, to have the hallways be absent and void of the usual chatter, jovial greetings, and even occasional fist-fight was striking. The silence of the day felt so loud. As 15, 16, and 17 year olds, we looked to our teachers for cues on how to properly respond to the events that were literally changing history right before our eyes. I remember at the close of the day, our principal Gary Nixon coming on the speaker to tell all of us, “what has happened today is a moment of history. It is scary. It has brought out fear and sadness. Take notice of yourself and those around you. Take today and be with your friends, family and loved ones. And, overall, we will rise out of this and we are going to be okay.”
Soon after the day was over, cries of We Will Never Forget sprang up alongside American flags all over the nation. It was the most patriotic I’ve ever felt in my life. United over tragedy and grief, it felt GOOD to be an American. I swore to not forget this day nor its impact on me.
Eighteen years later, I’d rather not remember the events of that day. All this time has gone by and it seems impossible somehow that 9/11 wasn’t just a few years ago, that it was actually almost two decades ago; that anyone who is a senior in high-school has no personal memory or attachment to the day. If I’m perfectly honest, their naivety and blissful unawareness seems like a gift. I’d rather not remember the day that we helplessly watched-live on TV-planes filled with people, REAL people, have their lives stolen from them. I’d rather not remember watching the buildings fall, the people run, and the screams and cries of the victims on the ground.
But I must. I must remember. I must force myself to watch the videos that make me uncomfortable. Avoiding it won’t make it never have happened—it will make me not care that it really did happen. Not caring that it happened is the equivalent of saying that 3000 people’s lives were stolen for no reason and were insignificant in the grand scheme of things. It is the very opposite of what I swore—to never forget.
So, I watched the 4 minute montage today—I heard the recordings of the confusion in the air-towers; the last “I love you’s” being left on answering machines; the panicked 911 calls; the screams from the ground; the moments when those who were helping realized there was nothing more they could do to help. And I felt the pain all over again, just like I was a 16- year-old walking into another day of high-school. Because I swore I’d never forget—and keeping that promise means forcing myself to remember.
Other Ways To Remember Well:
Reading out loud the names of those who lost their lives
Observing a moment of silence in remembrance
Praying for the families/friends of those who lost their lives
Taking a meal or a sweet treat to your local firehouse, police station, or hospital emergency room
Sharing our stories with children who were not alive at the time
Visiting one of the memorial sites in Washington DC; New York or Pennsylvania—they are breathtaking and reverent
Making a donation toward the continuing health and treatment funds for those impacted by being a first responder or immediately on site
Inviting a neighbor over for dinner; intentionally building relationships with those around us—today more than ever, we need community in all new ways