Growing up, I'd hear adults around me discussing where they were when Kennedy was shot, or where they were when Pearl Harbor was bombed. While I could tell that they clearly felt affected by these events, I never really understood how an event could be so seared into the memories--and very souls--of people.
Then the events of September 11, 2001 occurred.
It has been 10 years, but I remember exactly where I was, who I was with, how I felt as I watched the events unfold, and how I felt afterward. And I know that I'll always remember.
I was a junior in college, a little over 2 months shy of my 21st birthday, and living at home. Since I commuted to school, I tried to schedule my classes on only 2 or 3 days so that I didn't have to drive to Rosemont 5 days a week. While of this point I'm not certain, I'm pretty sure that I didn't have classes scheduled that day, which means that semester I was probably on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday rotation.
I was asleep in my bed, in the room I'd slept in for some 17 years. Besides my dog, who was asleep at my feet, I was alone in the house; my mom was at work, my brother at school, my dad at Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia.
It was the ringing of the phone next to my bed--not the sun's rays streaming into my window, though they, too, might have done the job--that woke me at just a little before 9am. It was my mom. She told me to go turn on the television. I think I asked, "What channel?" and she said, "Any channel." We hung up.
I walked into my parents' bedroom, settling onto their bed, and flicked on the tv. I actually don't know what channel I had on, but I suspect it was Good Morning America on ABC because I vividly remember watching Peter Jennings for the rest of the morning. (Interestingly, in my memory, I've believed for years that I was watching Peter Jennings as the 2nd plane struck, but in watching some youtube video of the coverage today, I discovered that Jennings wasn't even on air yet at that point. I'm even thinking now that it's possible that I didn't get to the tv until after the 2nd plane struck and that I am misremembering because I've seen the footage so many times and because it was replayed over and over again that morning. I suppose it doesn't matter, but it's never occurred to me before now that my timing could have been off.) The way I remember it, I watched, incredulous, as the camera was trained on the burning World Trade Center Tower 1. Then I watched, shocked and horrified, as the second plane flew into Tower 2.
I felt sick with fear when reports of the Pentagon crash came in. It seemed like all hell had broken loose, that major US landmarks were being targeted. I was terrified for my dad's safety, as he was in Hahnemann Hospital receiving treatments for his MS, just blocks away from William Penn atop City Hall, with no way to get out of the city. It seemed to me that this iconic building in Philadelphia could be a target, too.
I don't know if I knew it at that moment in the morning (though I certainly knew later that day), but my aunt had business at the Pentagon that day. She was safe, but we worried for most of the day until she was able to get through to someone and check in.
I cried when I saw Tower 2 fall. I felt despair when Flight 93 went down in Shanksville. I wondered, would this nightmare ever end? I cried more when I saw Tower 1 fall...all of those lives lost.
I don't know if I realized it at the time, but the world as I knew it was forever changed.
The events of that day caused me to start having panic attacks in the ensuing weeks. I worried for my safety, which, before, I'd always just taken for granted. I was heartened, though, by the way the country pulled together. It seemed as though every business I drove past posted signs like, "God Bless America" and "United We Stand" and similar messages of resilience and patriotism and hope. They brought tears to my eyes every time. It seemed like people, for a time, were just kinder to one another (almost in the same way that people seem nicer around the holidays). For a time, we were bonded as Americans. It was something I'd never experienced before.
As the years pass, any thought I have of September 11, 2001 brings me back to that morning on my parents' bed. All of the fear and concern and shock and horror and sadness comes rushing back. I weep for the lives that were lost, for the families who have to deal with the pain of their own losses, for my children who don't realize how their own lives --before they even existed--were to be changed as a result of that day. But I try to also remember that strength of spirit that I witnessed, and the pride I felt because of it. I try to remember that the horrible event did not break us, but made us resolved to fight for what we have.
I am thankful for the resilience of spirit that people have. I am grateful that even the families of 9/11 victims can make positive things come of their losses, that memorials are created and that people are celebrated as heroes and are remembered. In that memory, these innocent people live on, and will always live on.
I know that I will always remember, and that I will always be profoundly affected for having experienced this national tragedy.
As a teacher, I have a unique opportunity to talk to my students each year about the events of that day. This year, my school had a lovely, well organized, and meaningful commemorative assembly to recognize the 10th anniversary of the event. My junior students were in 1st grade when it happened. Some of them don't remember it very well at all. Most of them only remember it as a blur of harried parents and teachers, confusion, and anger that they'd have to have indoor recess on such a beautiful weather day. Unless they'd lost someone or known someone who may have been injured, they were shielded in some way because of their young age. (Sometimes ignorance IS bliss...) Pretty soon, though, I'll have students not even old enough to remember it at all. Soon--so soon--the younger generation will hear me and others talking about where we were on September 11th, and they will only be able to recognize that it affected us greatly, but may not be able to really understand.
While it's a memory that I will always hold closely in my heart, I pray for them that they'll never need to know.