My father frequently remarked that he would never forget where he was when he learned that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. When I was in seventh grade, I was only a couple years younger than he was during that infamous moment in American history that affected the entire world. I do not remember much from my time in junior high as even the things I thought were most important and meaningful then have since faded with the dilution of time. Nevertheless, a few things stick in my mind. Ohio State’s national championship win over Miami on January 3, 2003 still resonates as the most entertaining (and excruciating!) football game I’ve ever watched – although those in southern Florida may not agree. Similarly, the going away party held for my school crush stands out as a bittersweet staple of my young mind. Now I cannot remember how to spell her last name, which at this point has probably changed. Sorry, Laura. However, most of all I will always remember my time at school and the panic and confusion apparent in my teachers’ eyes that occurred 15 years ago on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
The terrorist attacks that day were not the first on American soil, nor were they the first by that group on the World Trade Center, yet no one had experienced anything like it before or thankfully since. The magnitude was too much for so many, including my teachers and school staff, to comprehend. No one knew how to deal with what was happening, especially as it was happening. Planes were grounded, and some schools and businesses went into lockdown. My teachers initially allowed us to watch the live news coverage with them on television. At lunch and recess, we were told not to tell the younger classes what had happened for fear that we would scare them, but we disregarded this and told them what we knew anyway. It’s interesting to consider that this could not happen today in an era of instant streaming information where almost everyone has a smartphone regardless of age. At the time though, my friends and I were the first to break the news to many of our younger peers.
We were not allowed to watch any more for ourselves though, as the principal decided that even we middle-schoolers were too young for the horrors of reality. I did not know the World Trade Center towers had collapsed until I returned home and was filled in by my dad. As I came through the front door he was watching the continuing coverage on television. He asked if I had heard what had happened. I replied that I did. he asked me what I knew, and I told him. He then told me everything that I had not yet heard and corrected what erroneous information I had picked up from early news coverage or through the grapevine since recess. He then remarked that this was for me what the JFK assassination was for him. “You’ll never forget this day,” he told me, and he was right. I was nowhere near New York, Washington, D.C., or Shanksville, but I will never forgot what little of that fateful day I experienced. I was young and did not understand much of anything regarding the geopolitical landscape of the world or terrorism – the Oklahoma City bombing happened when I was too young to comprehend it – but I will always remember what unfolded then.
Years later when I was in college, I took a brief trip to New York City with a friend. We were only in town for a couple of days, and without an itinerary. Inadvertently we walked by Wall Street during the Occupy movement. We redirected to avoid the protest madness and eventually (and accidentally) we ended up beside the ongoing construction of the new World Trade Center building, often called the Freedom Tower. What I felt in that moment was a not nearly as painful as what I imagine those who were directly affected by the attacks, or who lost loved ones as a result of them felt and continue to feel, yet it mixed the pain with a stirring sense of pride that life goes on and whatever knocks us down hurts and changes us, but cannot end our way of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Thanks for reading,