I doubt anyone on Earth is unaware that today marks ten years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I’ve seen a lot of commentary on this day (I’m wary of calling it an anniversary since that title is really better suited for celebrations), but I wanted to take a few minutes to share my experiences on that day a decade ago.
I was ten days away from my 16th birthday on that Tuesday. Practically every sophomore class in Indiana was taking the ISTEP standardized test, so we didn’t find out about what was happening until after the tests were done, something that still bothers me about our school’s administration. I understand not wanting to upset us during a test, but for me a national emergency trumps a standardized test. During our graduation a few years later, one of the student speeches pointed out that we were some of the last people in the entire country (and likely the entire waking world) to find out. And even when we were told, it was through the school’s crappy PA system, which had the effectiveness of a drive-thru intercom. I think I heard the words “terrible news,” “New York,” “D.C.,” “unsure” and “casualties.” Needless to say, we were confused.
We were told to get to our regular next class, so I made my way to my locker. I overheard a few students talking about what happened, when someone said, “Terrorists attacked New York and the Pentagon.” My hands were shaking, since I finally heard exactly what was going on. Then a girl in the group posed the most unbelievable question, “… What’s the Pentagon?” Even with the horrific knowledge I was still trying to absorb in the few minutes since the test ended, I couldn’t help but laugh. An American high school student had no idea what the Pentagon was. I think my unspoken thoughts were, “OK, now I know we’re in trouble.”
I went to German class with my fellow kept-out-of-the-loop sophomores, and we watched the news to find out just what was happening. At that point, the second tower hadn’t fallen yet, and there was real sense of helplessness. It’s stupid thinking back now, but I kept thinking of Independence Day, and finding myself horrified by this fact. The only other things I remember are that there were a few very liberal students already planning protests against the war on Afghanistan that didn’t quite exist yet (I’m not kidding, it was during lunch only a couple hours after everything happened), and that I was desperately trying to get a hold of my dad. He traveled for business a couple times a month back then, and I couldn’t for the life of my remember if he was on a trip that day.
After school, I got home and found my mom just standing a few feet away from the TV, watching the news. We just stood there together for maybe ten minutes, and I kept thinking how my life and all our lives would never be quite the same again.
Every September 11th since then, there have been many documentaries about that day. My personal favorite is just entitled 9/11, originally a project by two French brothers documenting the first few days of a rookie New York firefighter, ultimately becoming a first-hand look at the bravery and sacrifices made by so many at Ground Zero.
But today, I chose not to watch the documentaries. I didn’t even go onto Facebook and Twitter to read the reflections I’m sure cluttered my social feed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad so many people still reflect on this day, just as I am by writing this. But I also feel like there’s something more important about this day than just words. It’s not just about remembering what these brave people did, but acting like these brave people did. The best way to honor those who served and even fell for their fellow citizens that day is to be more like them. To be selfless. To treat others with more kindness. To remember that we’re all human beings, we’re all here for each other.
While I am still hesitant about calling today the ten year “anniversary,” I will admit there is something to celebrate today. As horrifying as that day was, we experienced an onslaught of goodwill and community not only on that Tuesday, but in the weeks that followed. If we really want to honor those who served and died, then we need to keep that spirit alive.