Although September 11th was last Friday, I have no life outside of school and sleep, so this is late. Hopefully, its reflections are worthwhile even on a less significant day.
It was an ordinary morning, a Tuesday at the beginning of the school year. I was 13 years old, and in the eighth grade. The first thing I remember of that fateful day, now imprinted on our national memory, was my mom, waking me up urgently. Later I would realize that those first moments reminded me of another strange day in my childhood, in which my mom woke me up and asked me if I wanted ice cream for breakfast. The freezer door had been left open overnight and the ice cream had melted, so my mother thought it might as well not go to waste, but it was quite surreal. It was a similar feeling when the first words I heard that morning were, "Get up and come watch the news - there's been a terrorist attack."
Through the course of that day, I was confused, stunned, fearful, sad, and numb. I was struck by so many things out of the ordinary. When I went downstairs, my dad was still there, dressed for work but his gaze locked on the news. That afternoon, I went to the first day of choir practice, and all the kids were abnormally quiet. My mom told me that, "this will be for your generation what JFK's assasination was for mine. Years from now, people will ask you where you were."
As far as I can remember, I started watching the news just before the towers fell. It's hard to say, because it was difficult to determine what was live and what was replayed over and over. Before that day, I had never even heard of the World Trade Center, but now the images I saw are burned in my memory. The towers, smoking...the shaky amateur video from the ground of the first plane hitting the tower...the skyline of New York City obscured by a huge cloud of smoke, ash, and debris...people on the ground, covered in white ash...bodies falling out of the towers -- jumping, I realized later. I remember when the news anchors realized the significance of the date.
I remember being afraid, because LAX and Disneyland were possible targets, and our home was within the danger zone if that attack was nuclear. Afraid, because no one had any idea how many people had died in the towers and the surrounding areas, and I wondered if anyone I knew had been there, or lost family members. I felt terrorized. One of my coping mechanisms was to pull out my sister's Christian magnetic words set, and along the stove top I placed something to the effect of "God is in control".
I remember feeling strangely more a part of the world of adults than children, when I realized that my 4- and 6-year-old neighbors would have no clear memories of this momentous day. I remember watching the rescue effort, and hearing some amazing stories, and many sad ones. I remember seeing the missing person boards, and all the American flags. I remember when they found the steel girders that formed a cross at "Ground Zero", and the thousands of people flocking to churches.
Looking back, now eight years, I remember thinking then that "9/11" would be a day that changed everything, the Pearl Harbor of my generation. I remember that the American flags everyone put on their houses and cars faded, and were eventually taken down, and not replaced. I remember that of the thousands of people who flocked to churches, so many returned to normal life, and to attending church at Christmas and Easter. I remember the country fired up about fighting terrorism, and seeking justice, and then losing vigor and determination in the face of the difficult and long-term task of war. I remember forgetting we were at war, because it felt like something so far away, something I heard discussed, but never comprehended. Even numbers of deaths and prayers for soldiers my friends knew was unconnected to my normal life, the idea of war meaningless in my everyday reality.
I remember stories of heroic deeds of civilians on a plane now known as United 93, and T-shirts and hats honoring New York City's firefighters, and policemen. I wonder now, how many have been truly inspired to be courageous and self-sacrificing in less obvious, more continuous ways.
I remember the first wave of "9/11/01: We Will Never Forget" bumper stickers, freeway posters, and more. I wonder if we content ourselves with having "not forgotten" by holding memorials every year, and watching TV specials on how the tragedy could have been prevented, instead of learning what it looks like when the country comes together, when communities support each other, when people give blood and their time to heal and rebuild. I wonder if we have forgotten after all, less than a decade later, because I'm not sure that we know what it truly means to remember.