On this 13th anniversary of the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks, we reflect on that somber day, and how it changed us as a nation. We honor all those who we lost on that day, not just in New York, but in Pennsylvania and in DC at the Pentagon as well. We look back at the victims, the first responders, those who were there, those who helped. Thirteen years. Every year since, there have been numerous posts on Facebook and social media about the terrorist attacks- some patriotic messages, some prayers, some personal stories, some quotes. This year, the thirteenth year, I’ve seen a new type of post. “How to talk to your children about 9/11.” Children born on that day are now teenagers, and post-9/11 babies are obviously too young to even know about or understand it. Thirteen years, and it’s still as poignant as ever for many Americans. Here is to never forgetting.
It was gym day at school. Our Lady of Greenwood didn’t have a gym, but it did have a multi-functioning cafeteria, so we went there to play basketball and other indoor sports. If it were nice, we would play outside.
To go to gym class, we had to make a double-file line in the hallway and walk neatly down the hall, across the school. I was on the outer edge of the line exiting Mrs. Mattingly’s classroom. Mr. Jester-the old computer teacher everyone was mildly afraid of- had his computer lab a few doors down the hall from my fourth grade room. Visible from the open door was his huge TV screen, which I remember thinking took up the entire wall. The line stopped, and Mr. Jester came out to talk to Mrs. Mattingly. I looked through Mr. Jester’s door to saw smoke and destruction on the tv screen, and remember being excited. Something happened. But what?
Because it was September and we were in Indiana, it was tornado season. Naturally, the teachers were talking about how we should take cover- just another tornado drill- because it was probably in our area. Just another tornado drill, I guessed.
I wish I remembered more about that exact moment in line, but my memories are shrouded with stories I’ve since heard from other people that I can’t say are my own, so I’ve lost what I was thinking in those moments. I don’t know if we ever made it to gym. I do remember an announcement coming on over the loudspeaker that day- a message about students going home early. Bad accident. Plane crash. New York. Not a tornado.
Mom came to pick us up in the family’s 1997 Suburban- “the purple truck,” as we call it. I remember thinking that Dad had a business trip that day and that he was on a plane somewhere, but Mom assured us he was fine. Minnesota, I believe, was his destination.
When we got home, the news was on and all I remember was seeing two very tall buildings in New York engulfed in flames, and people everywhere were upset. I had a friend in Georgia, Syneva, whose dad was a pilot. I dialed long-distance to check up on her; her dad was safe.
I don’t know if my mom talked to my brother and me about it, or if I just sat there and watched the news. I remember being excited- unsure of what exactly was happening- but feeling like something important was, and that I was experiencing history.
History. That’s what I loved. I knew this was going to make history. I remember retreating into my room that night, and pulling out crayons and a few sheets of printer paper. I began drawing. I wish I had saved what I did (I threw it away when my family moved to Virginia two years later), but I do still possess a vivid mental image of it. I had drawn the Twin Towers, covered in flames, a plane, and a man jumping off the side of it. I wrote “Dear journal, you are not just a page of my diary. You are marking an important part of history. September 11, 2001.” I had seen footage of the man throwing himself off of the burning building. It had impacted me so much that I needed to understand it, why all this was happening, for what reason. But I was a fourth-grader. I didn’t. How could such a thing happen? Drawing that picture-which admittedly terrifies me today- was my way of processing those horrific events.
Thankfully, I had no family or friends directly involved in those terrorist attacks. But after that horrible day, my heart went out to all of them. Every year, I find and read stories of loss, of life, of faith, of love, of patriotism, of hope. Even though I was so young, and so physically far from the attacks, the events of that day still impacted me, and continue to do so. I never visited the Twin Towers, nor have I seen Ground Zero, but I would like to.
How will I talk to my future children about 9/11? They won’t draw pictures in their journals of what I saw on the news that day. They’ll read about it in their history books, and it will be on their tests. They’ll need to understand it, and how it has made us Americans a strong people. And that we are proud to be American. And that evil does exist in the world, but so does good and so does love. And while my story is menial, it’s how I experienced one of the saddest moments in American history. And every day I am thankful to be where I am, and can only pray that such a day as this will never recur.
Let us never forget.