Few memories are engraved in my mind like those of September 11, 2001. I’m sure anyone around my age and older probably had a similar experience to mine. It’s one of those collective consciousness things that instantly united us in grief as friends, family strangers and humans.
It was a normal morning. As I was getting ready for school we had the television on good morning america. By this time, the first plane had already hit and the news was covering the event. It was tragic, but wasn’t personal yet. It was interesting to a 7th grader who tried to learn more and more about the world around him. I sat down for a moment on my parents bed to watch the coverage a little more. It was a live shot from a helicopter of the smoke coming out of the first tower.
Then there was this shadowy object that cut across the screen and into the other tower. A fireball erupted. The news anchors went speechless.
I gasped and yelled for my mom to come over and watch with me. Something changed in me at that moment. As a 12 year old, a rush of feelings came over me which I couldn’t fully understand at the time. That moment was a loss of innocence for me; a time when my carefree childhood whims were replaced with confusion, anger and fear. What would happen in the future? Would we be going to war? I had learned about Pearl Harbor in my classes before, but would this escalate into a world-wide conflict? Would they bring back the draft? Would my older brother (and eventually myself as well) end up having to go and fight to defend the country?
I tried to focus at school that day. Surely it couldn’t get any worse than it had. Teachers didn’t talk much about what was happening. I don’t think it was because they didn’t want to, but because they didn’t know what to say. What do you tell a bunch of young adolescents who are cognizant of what is happening but who are also scared children on the inside?
Eventually word got around that something had happened at the pentagon and that another plane had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Four planes. Four planes filled with people who were all now deceased. I was trying so hard to wrap my head around the question of why. I’m sure everyone was. Why would someone do something so evil? Why would you ever hate someone/something so much that you would claim thousands of innocent lives in such a way?
School eventually ended and I made it home on the bus. I got home, hugged my mom and turned on the TV to find that every single channel was streaming the news. Disney, Nickelodeon, MTV, everyone had pulled their programming to cover this story. For hours i watched, trying to answer those questions of why in my heart even though new information was scare to find.
I still don’t think I can put into words exactly the feelings I felt that day 13 years ago. I wish it had never happened. I’ve often wondered how my later childhood/adolescence would have been different had none of it ever happened. I can’t even imagine the pain felt by those who lost loved ones on that day.
As a country, I think we’ve mostly healed from the big wounds inflicted on our collective psyche. But we haven’t healed all the way. I will never ever forget the incredible unity our country had in the weeks and months following 9/11. I wish we as a country could have that again today, though I would never want it to be initiated by such a tragedy ever again.
A few years later, when I was a junior in High School I finally obtained some closure to the confusion, anger and sadness I felt back in 2001. Our choir was accepted into a prestigious competition and was invited to sing in Carnegie Hall in NYC. That experience was incredible and I will never forget it, but one memory that sticks out in my mind was going to Ground Zero one evening after sundown with a medium sized group. I finally saw and could start to comprehend the scale of everything. As we walked around the sidewalk with its tall construction fence, we found a spot where we could gather and see this view:
And then something beautiful happened: we broke out into song, singing John Rutter’s moving arrangement of “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.” I don’t think it was the greatest performance our choir group ever did pitch-wise, trying to compete with the incessant noise of NYC streets, but I think it was the most heartfelt performance we’d ever done. Pedestrians stopped and watched us as we sang the short melody. It was closure for all of us really. We couldn’t do anything to help console the pain people were feeling on the other end of the country five years earlier. This song, five years later, performed at the site where so much grief had been borne by a group of kids from Utah who had never set foot in NYC was our way of getting closure from that piece of innocence taken from us five years earlier.
I will never forget it.