I had no intention of writing about September 11. I was going to try and honor the people who lost their lives by reflecting on the reasons that I am glad to live in this country. I took time to feel profound gratitude for the sacrifices of the men and women who have since set foot in Afghanistan to end the terrorism that fueled the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I wasn’t going to touch it.
I felt like with the outpouring of public emotion, it would be pointless to express my feelings and beliefs. So many people would be saying the same thing, probably much better than I could. However, I felt drawn to it. I think there is a sense of guilt that I have no done enough to memorialize lives lost on and because of 9/11. There is also a sense of duty, and a need to “verbalize” the complicated emotions I feel about this horrible holiday.
I was in 6th grade, in Mrs. Reising’s class. We were at recess. As per usual, I was on the playground being a fairly standard 11-year-old hooligan…but, something was wrong. The teachers were tense, concerned. Suddenly, the whistles blew early and recess was ended, and the school seemed to drop in a state of eerie calm and quiet. No one in my class seemed to know for sure what was wrong, but there was a very tangible sense of dread. (Little did I know, just one room over, my best friend’s class was completely shut down from the outside world because a girl’s mother was in New York and called the school. To avoid panic, they were locked down from interacting with anyone from any other class for the rest of the day. They even got out of school 15 minutes early. Apparently teachers in the older grades did discuss the events, as well…our teacher, however, did not deem it fit to tell us anything.)
Kids can be perceptive, and while the teachers and administrators had no wish for us to know specifics, we could tell something was amiss. There was a sense of unity among the students…we were facing a unknown threat, and even if the teachers would not tell us, we could count on each other for at least some reassurance that things would be okay. It wasn’t until around 4 that afternoon that I got off the school bus to find both of my parents at home, staring at horrifying images of flaming towers, lives lost, and complete and utter carnage.
I had not had a perfect life up to that time, by any means. I had known hardship, disappointment, difficulty, and strife…however, a sense of safety had disappeared. Nowhere seemed safe. Passenger planes were meant to take people away for fun vacations…they were not meant to intentionally end the lives of thousands of innocent people. That is not how the world was supposed to work.
I, like so many others, felt helpless and violated. I realized that day that the world is full of angry, hateful people, and that it wasn’t as sparkly and bright as I had originally thought. It was like watching someone slash through the canvas of a beautiful painting with a wicked knife. I think in the hours following my realization of the gravity of that event, I aged tremendously.
I am an optimist by nature. I like to find a silver lining in the darkest of storm clouds. Even in the worst wreckage there is hope of new life and new starts. I may have to reach to find good in my reflection of 9/11, but I can say that it drew America closer together as a community. The love, support, and togetherness expressed following 9/11 was tremendous. And in many ways, there have been lasting effects of a heightened sense of community.
If I could press a magic button that would undo all the horror that we witnessed, un-take all the lives that were lost that day (and those lost later on because of the subsequent war on terror), I would. At least, though, many of us can continue life appreciating what we have and the great country we live in, that much more. 10 years later, we are still picking up the pieces of that tragic day, and attempting to move on with life.
What did you experience on 9/11? What was the first emotion you experienced? How did you react? Where were you? How have those horrible events influenced the way you deal with your day-to-day life? Please share in the comments section. I think all of us need to experience a sense of community today on such a raw and emotional anniversary.