Close behind.

On September 11, 2001 the sun rose just like any other morning. But on this particular day, my generation would experience its first great tragedy. I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast, or if I told my mom I loved her before I left for school. It’s weird the things you remember in the middle of a crisis– people, feelings, moments. These things stay with us and they become our story.

On September 11, 2001 I was in the eleventh grade and on my way to English class. My friend Bethany occupied the locker next to mine, “An airplane crashed into the World Trade Center,” she said. I wonder if she knows that she has been sewn into the fabric of my 9/11 story.

On September 11, 2001 we didn’t realize we would remember this day forever.  During fifth period, Mr. T tried his best to keep our focus on the trigonometry lesson for the day. “A plane crashed into a building, and we’re going to have math class,” he said unaware that it was an attack. We spent the hour reviewing problems and graphs while people in New York were jumping from burning buildings and passengers on flight 93 fought hijackers on their plane.  Every year I think about writing Mr. T a note, just to tell him that I hope his reaction doesn’t haunt him; he couldn’t have known.

On September 11, 2001 I learned that we’re all afraid of something. A few hundred high school students crowded around a 32” television screen that was rolled into the cafeteria. It was the first time that quiet spread through our lunch hall. No one knew what to say or do, so we just watched.

On September 11, 2001 I remember sitting in my driveway and staring up at the airplanes cutting through the night sky.  Luckily my own family and friends were safe, glued to their television sets in disbelief. All the while I wept for such a tremendous loss. I couldn’t help but wonder if those blinking dots were flying too close to the cooling towers of my hometown’s nuclear power plant.

On September 11, 2001 I learned the significance of the “JFK Phenomenon.” My relatives used to tell stories about “what they were doing when JFK was shot.” I never quite understood the footage of people crying in the streets over a man they never met before.  Tragedy affects each of us in different ways– it is ten years later and I still cry when I think of 9/11 and what it means for so many Americans. Now I understand.

On September 11, 2001 I found my voice.  Six young women, not yet old enough to vote, to give blood, or travel without parental consent, sat outside the principal’s office.  We weren’t sure what to do, but we knew we were going to do something.  Who knew that we would bind a community together with red, white, and blue ribbon.

On September 11, 2001 I learned a thing or two about community.  Our fingers tied thousands of donated ribbons into neat little bows.  In exchange for dollar bills, our neighbors, teachers, and friends lined up to secure a pin of their own. Word was beginning to spread about our “little ribbon project.” People came out of the woodwork with that same desire to Do Something. Children donated allowances, people donated supplies, and the football team wove red ribbon through their proud blue and white decor. In a very short time, our community had come together to help us raise $40,000 for 9/11 disaster relief efforts. Though we have since parted ways, I think of these women often and imagine them in their new roles as mothers, wives, and young professionals.

On September 11, 2001 I learned that our decisions matter. Most of us made the choice to get out of bed and continue with our regularly scheduled routines. People made decisions to board planes, go to work, or to make one last phone call. People decided between life and death, love and hate. In the days following, we decided as a nation to be resilient.

September 11, 2011 –  I have developed this quiet ritual of staring upward and watching the airplanes cut effortlessly through the night sky. I say a quick prayer for the men and women who were affected by someone else’s actions, both good and bad. Every day, I am thankful for my country, my community for reminding me that while evil exists, good is always close behind.

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