My kids have been international flyers since before they could walk, and I realized at some point that they have never flown a flight without going through all the layers of security. They don’t remember having family walk you to your gate, and hug you goodbye and wave at you from the windows while you were sitting on your plane. They’ll never know that. They’ve heard of Afghanistan and Iraq- I don’t think I could have found those places on a map August 2001. I look at my children and I hope. I hope they never know a day like September 11th.
I was seventeen years old, sitting in my high school economics class in a small town in Ohio watching a tv mounted to the wall. A tower is on fire, but we don’t know why. We were changing classes as the Economics teacher, who always had the TVs on, began screaming and running through the halls “Turn your TVs on, Turn your TVS on, the World Trade Centers on fire!” I wonder now if he understood what had happened, and what it meant. I know for sure I didn’t. I sat there staring at the television in confusion. Had something exploded? Why aren’t they putting out the fire?
I remember watching in mute horror as the second plane crashed into the tower. Sitting in my Economics class, watching the world as we knew change. We were usually loud, unruly seniors. A class taught by a man straight out of college and not that much older than ourselves, we were constantly too loud. But I can remember no sound during that moment. It was like everyone’s brain just caved in on itself. I can remember thinking “This is unreal. How is one on fire, and then a plane crashed into the other? What a horrible accident” I was truly saddened by the loss of life of the people on the plane, but for some reason couldn’t grasp that people would have been in the tower too.
I’ve seen the video of the south tower collapsing so many times now. Again I remember no adult encouragement, no shock spoken in class. Just mute horror. That’s what I remember the most about my high school that day. The stillness. I remember no teaching. No lessons. No inspiring words. Just silence.
I feel like we lived 24 hours of horror, even though I was not personally affected in anyway. We couldn’t look away from our televisions, as we hoped, prayed and finally wept for the lost. I remember at some point fearing for my uncle and aunt, who lived and worked in the Washington DC area, and wondering how my ex boyfriends (now husband) Army life would change with this news. The next morning at school seemed just as quiet, up until my AP Literature class.
I remember walking into her class and it felt like for the first time we were waking from a daze. She had the front page of every major paper taped to the chalk board. Each image was of planes, and towers, and dust covered people. She let us silently absorb for a moment, before she said “You will remember where you were on September eleventh, for the rest of your lives. Like those who remember Pearl Harbor, you will remember what you saw.”
There was something weirdly comforting in this. We were the first generation since Pearl Harbor to witness such horror on American soil, but we weren’t alone in that. There were people before us who knew what we were struggling to understand. To know we had a duty to generations after us to tell what hatred could do.
The flags sold out of stores all over. Everyone was proud to be an America, as stories of bravery and heroism began to emerge. I remember standing in the end zone with our band and our rivals’ band playing songs that we all knew together- because we were united in this.
Years later I was talking to my husband about his September 11th. He told me at the time he was working in a war games sort of thing with the army. They were all brought into a room and told that the twin towers had been struck by terrorist, and had collapsed. They all nodded, thinking “Okay, this is the scenario”. The instructors had to stop and say “No. No. Outside of here and now, the game aside, this is what has happened”. He told me how they had had such an easy time getting on base before, but September 12th ID’s had to be shown, cars were inspected, you needed a sticker.
Life has become normal in ways that were so far from normal before that day. With a new normal comes a responsibility to the generations coming after us. Share that day with your children, share the stories of the ones that were lost, share the heroism.