its 4.11 the morning and i have just laid my daughter back in her crib. usually i head straight back to bed, having no problem falling back into a deep slumber. today is different. today i am reminded of a conversation i had with my dad many years ago. as i have always loved history one day we were discussing major historical events. he said that he would never forget where he was the day that heard President Kennedy had been shot. he was in his high school classroom and they announced the news over the intercom. every was shocked. he said it was just one of those things that you would never forget.
i too will never forget where i was when i heard the news. I got up early that morning so i would have time to get a breakfast sandwich from the LRC cafe before chapel. i had just gotten my sandwich and was getting ketcup when Pablo came up to me and told me that a plane had flown into one of the twin towers. what? i didnt believe him. i asked him if he was kidding. he assured me he wasnt, it was on the news, go and see for myself. I grabbed my sandwich, ran across campus to my dorm room and found my roommate already glued to the tv. I got there just in time to watch the second plane hit.
and i couldnt believe what i had seen.
by now words like 'terrorist' and 'war' were being thrown around. after news of the pentagon and the plane in Pennsylvania were broadcast, we were in shock of what would happen next. i just couldnt believe it. this was insane. on a normal day roughly 50,000 people worked in the trade center. i remember thinking how many of them would survive. i had a friend who worked in the second tower. on the 52 floor. i tried to call, but no answer. i sent an email and waited 3 days before i got a response. he was fine. his best friend and girlfriend didnt make it out. can you imagine? what do you say back to that? any words seem trite and insignificant.
my country was under attack. MY country. my friends were talking about war. would they go? some wanted to enlist straight away. the sense of patriotism was unlike anything i had personally experienced before. i have wondered if those days after September 11th were a bit like the days after December 7, 1941. I realise there was not a world war going on in 2001, but i imagine the sense of unity of country and defiance towards the aggressors was similar. American sentiment was so strong. i dont think i have ever seen so many American flags flying before.
images of New York and Ground Zero will forever stay embedded in my mind. I started collecting newspapers and magazines from the 12th on. i remember thinking that i wanted to save as many articles as i could. it was history and i wanted to have it for years to come. and then i remember feeling really bad about that. collecting newspapers of a disaster? what kind of person was i? thousands had lost their lives and i was busy collecting clippings of those accounts? i took everything i had collected, put it in a box and sealed it in storage. it still sits there today. unopened. untouched.
perhaps some day i will look through those images and read the words still raw with emotion. perhaps i will teach history one day and my students can read accounts of what happened. accounts not written years and years later by people far removed from the attacks, but stories from people involved just one day after it happened. perhaps i will get the box out and show my children what the New York skyline looked like the first time i saw it. but i think mostly those newspapers and magazines, whenever i get them out, will serve as a visual reminder of what the world used to look like.
i remember visiting Washington DC and the White House before there was a giant barricade around all government buildings. there are some parts that you cant even see anymore. i remember taking a tour of the White House. now you are not allowed. i toured around government buildings and the Mall without armed guards, security checks and intense scrutiny. my daughter will not have the opportunity to do those things. I remember going to the airport as a child, watching the planes fly away, waving good bye to people at the gate. I remember when you could go the airport without hours of security check points, regulations on what you can and cant fly with. i remember when it used to be easy and exciting to fly. my daughter will never have that feeling. I remember countless trips to New York City, going up in the statue of liberty, touring the twin towers, seeing the ever so famous NY skyline. my daughter will not have that chance. that breaks my heart. and makes me angry. the future generation has lost some of its freedom, freedom within their own country, because of the actions of outsiders. and that is despicable.
the first week in October of 2002, just a year after the attacks, some friends and i took a road trip to the east coast. our trip involved stops in both New York City and Washington DC. i will never forget the sight that we were met with at Ground Zero. where the twin towers once stood there was nothing but a gaping hole. the make shift cross, created from steel beams and put up by the rescue workers was still there. a silent memorial to those who never left that spot. the air still had a faint smell of ash and burning steel. the buildings surrounding Ground Zero were still closed off, boarded up and vacant. windows off street level still had broken glass hanging in the windows, an eerie reminder of what had happened. and the walls and fences boarding the WTC plaza were covered in signs of the dead and missing. husbands, fathers, mothers, wives, daughters, sons....people desperately searching for a sign of a loved one. most never to be seen again. there was a fire station across the street from the towers. directly across the street, maybe 20 feet away. the men of that station were the first brave men to respond. and they lost all but 2 of their men.
to say the sight was moving or heart breaking is an understatement. there are no words. i will never forget reading through the names of the thousands that died.
September 11th came with unbearable heartbreak, but also with undeniable courage. the strength of the fire fighters and police who ran into danger instead of away from it. the spirit of the new yorkers who helped on another. the selflessness of the relief workers who worked tirelessly around the clock, desperately searching for survivors. and the resolve of a nation, a nation who vowed to not rest until those responsible paid.
i am not sure that those responsible have paid. i am not sure that that is something that will happen in our lifetime. but i do know that on September 11, 2001 my country changed forever. the world changed forever. not only did the hijackers take thousands of lives in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. they took away a bit more of our innocence, a bit of our freedom. i was both appalled and amazed at what my fellow human beings were be capable of. incredible bravery and undeniable cowardice were simultaneously evidenced that day.
and i will never forget