We are the 9/11 Generation and 10 years ago we learned lessons we shouldn't of had to understand, but can never forget
It is the question that my children will ask me as part of school history projects: Where was I on September 11, 2001. Where was I that bright, sunny, warm day in September? I was sitting in my 5th grade class when my principle came on the loundspeaker and told the teachers to turn on the tv, but only for 5-10 minutes. In 5th grade it isn't that strange to actually watch tv in class, but I was confused about the time limit. So, my teacher turned on the tv and there it was - the North Tower of the World Trade Center engulfed in flames. Now I am not a native New Yorker, nor had I actually been to the city, so the true icon status of the Trade Centers didn't mean much to me at the time. Little did I know that those towers would change my entire world.
We didn't really know what to think, especially in all of the confusion about what had happened. And then we saw it, the second plane crash into the South Tower. It was clearly a plane, there wasn't any doubt. The dust and fire clouds to this day bring tears to my eyes. What did it mean? I didn't know. Soon the towers had both collapsed less than two hours since it had all begun. How was this even possible? I had no idea. All I know is that we watched the footage all day. We watched people jump from those towers and the haunting images of paper swirling around and the firefighters rushing towards WTC plaza to help the wounded and dead.
That day we also learned about what had happened at the Pentagon and in Shanksville.
Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Somehow that made everything so much more real, more concrete. I didn't actually know where Shanksville was, but this huge crisis had affected MY state, MY life. It was an eerie day as parents came to pick up their children. My parents both work in the medical field, so they were on high alert, and while I understand that now it was hard to grapple with at 10 years old. I remember feeling so cold and scared and uncertain. Our small group of fiercely independent 5th graders was now afraid to walk the 50 feet to the bathrooms by themselves. Our cafeteria was glassed-in, forget it. We sat at lunch, quiet, scared, barely eating. The footage kept playing out as those people I had watched on tv my entire life tried to fight back tears and the city they loved burned and fell into chaos.
At home, I didn't know what to do. My sister was only in 3rd grade and the entire thing (rightfully) scared the crap out of her. But me, I was so hungry for knowledge, for a way to make sense of everything, that I wanted to keep watching. It would be days before we'd have any concrete information, and 10 years later I'm not sure I've managed to make sense out of it.
Is this the story I tell my children? Do I tell them it was almost a week before I heard from my uncle who lives in Port Washington on Long Island? Do I tell my children of his friend who almost didn't make it out of the towers? Do I tell them of the passengers of Flight 93 who fought to save our lives? And what do I tell them about Mark Bingham, the fourth person on Flight 93 who is never mentioned because he was gay? 10 years later I grapple with these questions. I wonder, will I ever get answers.
So, on this 10th anniversary of 9/11 I give my whole-hearted thank yous to the the firefighters, police officers, EMTs, doctors, nurses, civilians, government officials, and friends and families of 9/11 victims and survivors for ensuring that everything was done that day and we never forget what our freedom means. And it's costs.