Approximately 360,128 babies entered the world on September 11, 2001. 360,128 babies turned 18 today. Of those more than 300 thousand, about 13,238 were born in the United States of America. They’re all grown up now. What is it like to grow up in a culture that remembers your day of birth as the day that changed the world?
I was in 9th grade biology when the first plane hit. My teacher was a strange older white man, who once had us track the races and genders of all students in each of our classes. He called it a social experiment. On the East side of Houston, at a high school with over 4000 students, we were proudly a melting pot of all races and ethnicities. My best friend in middle school was Romanian. My lab partner was a first generation immigrant from Vietnam. Most of the school population was black and hispanic, and this white guy tried to teach us that whites were the minority, who deserved to be protected and respected. He wanted us to see it on charts and graphs. I pray to God that old Mr. WhatsHisName has more love in his heart today than all those years ago. Anyway, he’s not the point, and I’m not wasting more words on him.
When the planes hit, our TVs turned on to channel 1, which was a local program that gave us our announcements everyday. I’m not entirely sure how it worked, but I believe it was student-run, possibly from somewhere on campus. I vaguely remember a brief announcement and then our teacher muted the TV (or turned it off) and told us to remain calm and prepare for our next class.
I actually skipped my next class (I used to ask my teacher if I could go to the library to work on a project for another class. I had a couple teachers that would regularly let me out and not count me absent. I’ve always been a bookworm and class bored me. #SorryNotSorry) I remember sitting with a friend in the library lounge, and she cried. She begged her mom to come pick her up, scared we were all going to die. Her mom eventually did come. Several parents did. The rest of the day was a blur, but I think it was mostly chatting about “What does all this mean?” I didn’t cry for a while.
My mom knew it was a terrorist attack when the second plane hit. As soon as she saw it, she said she just knew in her heart. I cannot imagine the shock and fear, being an adult, and seeing the attack and not knowing how many thousands of people were hurt and killed. As a kid, I knew it was bad, but I really couldn’t grasp the gravity of the situation. I remember having a general feeling of edginess, but I don’t believe I really saw how it changed my life until much later.
I spoke with my parents this morning, and they had many things to say.
“It didn’t really have a direct effect (because we weren’t there), but we didn’t know what was going on, so we had a huge fear. Well it did affect us because so many people died… I don’t think anybody really realized to begin with what was happening. It still horrifies me to think about it. It could happen again and you just never know if and when it will.”
“I think they were basically trying to bring us down, attacking our financial center. They thought if they could affect the economy and financial center in this country, it would pretty much bring us to our knees. But we rallied together…”
“The twin towers… it just showed you how fragile [we are]. The horrible thing about it was the life was lost, but as far as economically, it’s not like all the money was at the towers. [The towers were] just the symbolism. For an entire year and a half, everybody was scared to do anything. Nobody wanted to spend any money… because it took everybody by surprise. Of course, it led us into a war that really I don’t think a lot of people wanted to be involved in. We are still paying for it as of this day. We didn’t talk about it much at the house because we didn’t want to upset you, sometimes grown-ups want to keep things away from kids. Everybody thought everything was going to crap.”
“I just hope it never happens again. Always be prepared. You never know when something is going to happen. Don’t just have enough to just get by. That was a learning thing for everybody.”
“The most horrifying thing was seeing those people jumping. Think about the people that were never found.”
I can hear the fear and shock as they talk about it, all these years later. I know they sheltered me from it as much as they could, but as an adult, I still think about that morning in class. I still remember my friend in the library just crying. Everyone was so sad and afraid. The following year, and every year since, the country remembers that day and maybe that’s part of how we heal.
What happened that day was horrific, but what happened in the weeks following was beautiful, and those are my clearer memories, thankfully. I felt a sense of pride for first responders like I’d never previously experienced. Firemen and officers were accurately portrayed as superheroes, in ways I’d not seen before or since. I vividly remember photos and videos of men and women in uniform covered in gray ash or debris and bleeding while carrying out injured victims.
The media rallied in support of Americans for weeks and months afterwards, and yearly even to today. Entire communities came together to help each other, not just in New York but all over the country. And now, yearly, we reminisce on what that felt like and we talk about how that’s what we miss. Why does it take a terrible tragedy for us to open our eyes and care about our neighbors? Truly, we enjoy the feeling of helping others. It’s how God designed us. But so often we get caught up in everyday distractions and the natural, inner love for those around us fades into the background. Can it only be stirred by tragedy? Or can we be intentional with our love?
I don’t know if I am truly a “patriot“, based on the definition. For my entire adult life, I’ve been disgusted with how our government has handled many things and how people have been sucked into the division and discord. But I still love the human beings in this country. I still love the Constitution. I appreciate the efforts of activists to make this world a better place.
On September 12, 2001, the spirit of America was alive, flourishing, and absolutely stunning. America was truly the beautiful, while she was covered in ash and blood, rising from the pit, and carrying someone up with her.
I challenge you to love someone today. Love a young adult who maybe sees the world differently than you because the world changed before they were old enough to understand. Love a stranger because we do all bleed the same, but we face our hurts very differently. Love your neighbor simply because you can and every life has value.
And go hug a first responder. It’ll be good for both of you.