If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.
September 11, 2014
Everyone who is old enough to remember remembers where he or she was on that day. I don’t even have to tell most of you what I mean when I say “that day.”
On this day, thirteen years ago, half my lifetime ago, I was in the eighth grade. School had just started, I barely even knew my teachers’ names. It was one of the earlier periods of the day, second or third. Classes were switching. I was at my locker, swapping out my three ring binders and books for a new class. I shut my locker and half turned when I saw a boy jogging down the hallway. The Pentagon had been bombed, he said.
At the time, I didn’t even really know what the Pentagon was. I’d never been to Washington, D.C. I was vaguely aware that it was some kind of building related to the military.
When I went to my next class, the teacher was on the phone with her husband. She was telling him to go to their daughter’s school and get her out. She looked distraught, frantic. She was a tiny thing, a birdlike creature with frizzy brown curled hair. Her hands were trembling when she put down the phone and looked at us, all assembled there like sheep. Her brown eyes were glossy with tears she was holding back.
“We’re not supposed to tell you this, but I’m going to. There has been an attack.” She looked to the TV that was positioned high up, mounted catty-corner on the far right wall. She picked the remote control off her desk and turned it on.
The towers were falling. Towers I’d never seen in a city I’d never been to. But it was America. I’d lived my entire life with my country at war, but now it was different. For the first time since Pearl Harbor, war had come to our soil.
No one knew it then, but everything was about to change.
I remember sitting on my bed in my room that evening, the TV was on, and they were showing the same images over and over again. The towers, proud and strong, then planes and explosions and collapse. I was on the phone with my friend Julia and all I could say was, “It’s crazy, it’s crazy. I don’t believe it, it’s crazy.”
At the time, my father worked at Boeing in their Philadelphia location which is dedicated to making bombs and helicopters for the military. He was on lock down, but had managed to call us and tell us he was okay.
It was later that I learned that the father of one of the students in one of the grades beneath me was not okay. He would never be coming home, because he was the pilot of one of those planes.
September 11, 2001, was not a New York tragedy, or a Washington tragedy. September 11, 2001, was an American tragedy. But it brought us together in a way I’d never seen before. Because it was our tragedy. It was something that we all owned.
In the days that followed, there was much sorrow, but there was also much pride. I don’t know that I’d ever thought about what it meant to be American before, but in those days, I started to think about it. Stores sold out of American flags and an outpouring of support flowed for the families that were affected. First responders lost their lives searching for the dead. Search and rescue dogs and their handlers looked for the living while cadaver dogs and their handlers were brought in from all over the country to search for the dead. Lives were saved, but more were lost.
Thirteen years later, and we have airport restrictions and more bombings, we have the Patriot Act. But we don’t have pride anymore. The togetherness of that day was lost. We say “Never forget 9/11” the same way the Bosnians say “Never forget Srebrenica.” They haven’t.
It’s not a universal statement of course, many remember and pay homage. But we remember on this day and only this day. Remembrance didn’t even make the front page of CNN’s homepage, the Oscar Pistorius trial did.
After September 11, 2001, it seemed like everyone suddenly cared again. Like we’d woken up from some haze or fog and suddenly recognized that there was a world beyond Hollywood. We cared about our country and our people. We cared about politics and what our government was doing. We cared about security. We cared about things because we’d lost them. But now celebrities are more likely to make the news than another beheading of an American in Syria.
On this day, I wish everyone would remember, but not just this day. September 11th was a terrible day in American history, but in some ways, I miss the days that followed. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged. There was a sense of national pride that everyone, immigrant and otherwise, could relate to. I was proud to be American, and so was everyone else.
I wish it didn’t take the deaths of thousands of people for us to stand together.