Thirteen years ago, everything changed.
It was an awful day. It was a tragic day. It was a day when we lost so much, but some of us gained something more.
We are told to “Never Forget” what had happened on September 11. Quite frankly, how can anyone?
- Is it that easy to forget the image of two airplanes crashing into the two tallest buildings in New York City?
- Is it that easy to forget all the people who died that day? All the firemen who went into the blazing inferno when others fled? All the first responders who searched through the rubble?
- Is it that easy to forget the hysteria and chaos of what had been a beautiful mid-September day?
- Is it that easy to forget about the confusion of not even knowing if your mother, father, brother, sister, husband, wife, son, daughter, aunt, or uncle would come home, or whether giving the routine goodbye that morning would have been the last?
Having lived through the horrors of that day, I can guarantee you that I will never forget. I will never forget being stricken with the terrifying thought that my mother, whom I had casually barely said goodbye to that morning, may have been stuck in one of the towers that morning, as her job was in Tower 2 at the time. It’s not the kind of thought one could imagine calmly, especially as a high school sophomore.
We have it pretty easy these days when it comes to breaking news. Something happened? Check Twitter on your phone, or check Facebook, or text someone, or call someone (wait, you can CALL people with an iPhone?) who might know. We have a lot of means of obtaining knowledge and information at our fingertips now. Back in 2001, not so much.
Some people had mobile phones, but otherwise we were in a vacuum. Sitting inside my school’s auditorium with other classmates fighting back tears of sadness was about as horrible a vacuum as I could be in as I really desperately wanted to know the status of my mom. People consoled each other. People prayed together. They didn’t always know each other (or liked each other) but in a time of calamity, like and dislike were minutia that were all irrelevant.
I still didn’t know the fate of my mom for another few hours. All I could do was still remain in the auditorium and just hope for the best—while also trying to find a phone I could call from. I and someone else eventually found a phone in an faculty office to call from. I called home and talked to my father. I asked him where my mom was.
He told me she was coming to get me.
I remember having to ask my father a second time where she was. He told me again. I may have asked him to repeat himself. But he was right, she was coming to get me and within a few hours, we were both reunited. What had been the worst day of my life became the best day of my life. I don’t think I have hugged my mom as tightly as I did that day thirteen years ago.
My September 11 had a happy memory but the same could not be said of others. One of my classmates lost her mother that day. Also seeing the Manhattan skyline with a plume of brownish smoke in place of the World Trade Center was an eerie sight I will never forget as I had thought the planes crashing into the towers were small planes—I thought the towers would still be standing but with a hole in the exterior.
I met someone earlier this summer who teaches music to middle school students. We talked about where we had attended school and I brought up being in New York during 2001. He told me that his students are mostly 11 and 12—none of them were alive when the tragedy happened and that these were the first students would have no first-hand or second-hand memories of it at all. That really got me thinking about how the future generations will look at September 11 a lot differently than we will. We will think of seeing the towers when they were still part of the skyline—when we could see them every day with our own eyes—while those born after 2001 will only know of them from history books and hearsay. For them, it will just be another day, but for us, it will always be that horrible day thirteen years ago we will never forget.
After all, is it that easy to forget?