Thirteen Years Ago

New YorkIt was a balmy Tuesday morning. The heat from the Indian summer was prominent even in the early hours of the day, causing waves to ebb and flow above the pavement. My first day of seventh grade. I had my bright blue-rimmed glasses, multicolored braces, and I may have been one of the most naïve twelve-year-olds around, but with my outfit decorated in pastels and my hair adorned with glittery clips, I was ready to take on my second year of middle school. My biggest concern that day was finding my locker. And attempting to not get eaten alive by the eighth graders. Little did I realize that my gravest concern would be nowhere near notable in comparison to the events the day held in store.

The morning had started off like any other. Mom’s packing lunch, I’m hurriedly eating my Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch – not because I was late for my first day, but simply because I have never been a slow eater. All I wanted to do was watch the latest episode of Degrassi and admire Aubrey Graham in his pre-Drake days. Yet Mom’s rules ruled all – the morning news, that’s what was always on first thing in the morning. I was hardly paying attention, but the light of the television glowed against my glasses enough for me to notice the Christmas red scrawl across the screen: BREAKING NEWS!

I noticed the sounds of my mom pressing Ziplock bags closed had ceased, and all she was doing was staring straight ahead at that familiar glow. I spun around only to see a plane fly straight into buildings that I would momentarily know as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Flames, black smoke. So much smoke. The crumbling of debris. Anchors and journalists had no idea what to report. Was this an accident? Had the plane malfunctioned? Amidst the shaky footage, the panic, the wailing of the ambulances and the blaring of sirens and screams, another plane flew into the towers. And then it became clear: this was no accident.

I repeatedly asked my mom what was going on. She quieted me. And then I heard the term that would come to define our generation for years to come: terrorism. I had never heard that term thrown around so much as it was that day. That and a group known as al-Qaeda. And militants. And a myriad of other terms that simply were too much for my young brain to comprehend. But I couldn’t stave off the feeling that what was happening would have lasting ramifications. When our generation has moved to ashes and dust, and the latest history textbooks are published for children of a newer age, they will read about these great and terrible attacks that left so much death and destruction in their wake.

It is slightly funny, isn’t it? To think that we are all basically living history. We are currently making up future generations’ past – it really is strange to think about conceptually. We don’t necessarily realize that history is being created in the present moment of the event. But we are all thimbles in life – we as a whole leave a mark, we as individuals are presently, and typically historically, minor blips in the complexity of things.

Our house phone began to ring nonstop, with family and friends asking if we had seen the news and Terry, are you planning on keeping the kids home from school today? She would soon reach an automatic yes to that question as a third and fourth plane came out of the sky and shattered against the Pentagon while another fell to a field in Pennsylvania. Four planes, thousands of lives. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…

But why? That’s what I wanted to know that day as I sat at home watching the same footage over and over. It was a continuous loop of plane crashes, crying, and constant updates of the death toll and who was responsible behind these attacks. 19 individuals had acted out in the name of religion and a reported retaliation of the United States’ alliance with Israel, but those two concepts were far beyond my age at the time. Despite that, I did believe on that day (and still do to this day), angels fell alongside those planes to catch the drifting souls that had their vessels tragically obliterated.

The structure of the Twin Towers had been completely and irrevocably destroyed – it seemed to mirror the American spirit. Two buildings were going down, and we were all going down with them. And yet I would witness President George W. Bush address the nation on the event that defined his presidency, only to say: “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.” In that moment, however, I felt we had been greatly dented. Greatly shaken. But amongst the dents, the scrapes, the losses, the anger, and the sheer sadness of it all, we would not be defeated. We would not harbor those dents and scrapes so long that we would not heal.

I was fortunate enough to have all of my loved ones safely on the West Coast, but so many others I knew were not so lucky. Over 3,000 people were killed on September 11, 2001, including over 400 firefighters and police officers. All because of 19 attackers that would change the way the world operated. In a way, those 19 individuals held far more power than some of the greatest and most influential leaders of the world. They effected a vast change – so much so that the security in our airports were never the same after that day, so much so that wars were started and still have yet to reach a stage of completion, so much so that we all walk a tad more timidly through life. Whether we knew someone or not, the attacks left their mark not on just Americans, but our cries were heard around the world. A societal scar that we bear and will eventually come to be recognized as bolded text and highlighted terms in those textbooks of the future.

I watched the events of September 11 unfold before my naïve eyes, and after that day, I was far less naïve. The inferno that lit up New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania left fragments behind – fragments that are still being piece together to this day. There is zero beauty and mystery amidst the downfall of humanity, and that balmy, Tuesday morning, our humanity as a species fell faster than those towers ever could. The deep sophistication of the situation could only inspire a torrent of ways in which we would strive never to fall again. And to never let anything like this befall us again.

To those that lost someone in the tragedy of September 11, 2001, I hold you with me in my heart. To those that went off to war in the wake of these events, you have my utmost respect and admiration. To those that were lost in the wars and those that knew someone that had been lost abroad, my prayers are with you, today and every day. And to all that carry the societal scar, my hand is yours to hold. In solidarity, in loyalty, in love.

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