September 11 and the Shattering of Innocence
This is my 9/11 story. One I will never forget. One that gives me goosebumps as I type just these first few sentences. As my mind bounces from memory to memory trying to organize what I want to say here, it latches on to moments throughout that day that immediately produce a potpourri of visceral emotions within me. 9/11 was the day in which my innocence was stolen from me, and the rest of this country. I would like to share my experiences with you below.
I had just turned 14 years old, had just begun High School. The most important thing to keep in mind reading this, and any other discussion of 9/11, for those too young to remember it vividly, is that this was a world before mass communication. Kids weren't in class and on their phones seeing BREAKING NEWS alerts or social media posts. We weren't in contact with our family or friends. This was a world where you had to go to information, it did not come to you.
Given that, the bell for period 1 rang at 8:30 AM. I was in Math class. 16 minutes later, unbeknownst to myself or my classmates at the time, the first tower of the WTC had just been flown into and was in flames. Someone knocked on the door, motioning for the teacher to step outside for a moment. When she returned she was pushing one of those old TVs on a rolling stand that substitute teachers would have you watch movies on instead of doing classwork. She informed us that we might be under attack, and that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. She then turned on the news, and a class of freshman sat in silence watching live news.
School was let out sometime around 9:30AM that day. At this point, I still had not spoken to my family or friends, I hadn't the slightest clue whether they even knew this had happened. Remember, no cell phones, no Facebook. When I got let off the bus at home, I walked inside to find both of my parents sitting on the couch, absolutely transfixed to the TV. At this stage in my life I'd never seen this before. The lack of accessibility to mass communication meant that my parents could exert a semblance of control over the information I was seeing, and did their best to shield the horrors of the adult world from me. This could only have been possible in the pre-social media world. Needless to say, walking in on my parents both being home from work, both not speaking, both watching TV, and being told "come, sit next to me and watch" by my mother was almost as surreal as the events that had transpired. At least in *my* world it felt surreal.
At the time, my grandfather, a man who was in his 70s at that point, was still working as an architect in Manhattan. He was thankfully fine, able to take photos from his office balcony from a few blocks away. He was our only personal concern that day, and thankfully we were able to communicate with him via landline and he was ultimately safe. But 9/11 impacted this country in a deeper way than personal tragedies. Ask someone from Nebraska, or Utah, or California, or Florida or anywhere else about their recollections of 9/11, this was not an event that required a personal connection to for one to feel personally affected.
What I most remember from that day is, ironically, being in awe. You're used to others having answers, being able to explain what is happening. For those who are too young to remember, imagine the feeling at the very, very beginning of the COVID pandemic, in which no one in the world had any idea what it was or what was happening and multiply by that feeling by 1 billion. In my recollection, there was no partisanship on display on any major media network. None, zilch, nada. I'm sure there were Linda Sarsour's out there cheering and spouting conspiracies about Bush doing it, but this was not the norm or the narrative that captured the majority of the coverage. It didn't matter whether you turned on CNN, MSNBC, or FOX. It didn't matter whether it was a report from the NYT or WaPo. The sentiment was the same in all of them: we've just been attacked on our own soil and we don't know by whom. There was an extreme sense of sobriety in the news coverage, something that is alien in 2020. It truly was just news, and nothing else. And thinking back on that day, it's one of the things I find most inspiring and comforting; that in the darkest moment of my life on this planet, this country felt like 1 for the first (and last time).
The events of the next 48 hours unfolded as the world watched on. Little pieces of information led to rumors, rumors led to debunking, or confirmation, and we learned eventually it was Al Qaeda. That was the moment when a nation that had been lulled into complacency and decadence by years and years of relative peace and prosperity was awoken and reminded that evil is real, and evil is out to harm us.
I believe that it is my, and everyone else who lived through this event's, duty to ensure that the wound inflicted on this nation on September 11, 2001 never dulls or fades, it remains as fresh as it feels inside the minds of all who experienced it. On that day, we were all New Yorkers and every global citizen was an American. As you read and relive accounts of 9/11 today, please try to guard against becoming numb to it, please remember that life is precious, that America is precious, and that we must always remain on guard. God Bless America, and God Bless you all.