I’m not sure if it’s coincidental or if 9/11 has subconsciously been on our minds as the anniversary creeps closer, but over the past several weeks I’ve had several conversations about that day in 2001. Which made me want to get my recollections down on record and find out what others remember.
I woke up that day to my clock radio alarm somberly telling me, “a plane has hit the World Trade Center.” I was 18 years old and preparing for my freshman year at college. My school happened to start later in September than most others, so I was still living in my parents’ house. Everyone else was at work or school already, and I had set my alarm because I wanted to get a jump on buying dorm room essentials and packing that day.
I remember it being one of those gorgeous, crisp early fall mornings. The day was promising to be cool and comfortable, sunny but not hot. The sky was bright blue, the trees were still bright green, and everything seemed lovely.
I turned on the TV just in time to see the second plane crash. This was the first time I realized it was an attack, not an accident. The media drew the same conclusion just as quickly. There was already speculation of going to war, at 9:30 that morning, and I remember calling my boyfriend’s house at the time, and blurting out, “Are we going to war?” without even realizing it was his father that had answered the phone. “No, of course not,” he reassured me.
The rest of the day is a bit of a blur. I remember being shocked to hear on the news that there were two other planes, one that hit the Pentagon and one that crashed in PA. I remember my parents both came home, I remember watching the television for most of the day. I remember that the conclusion that it was terrorism happened pretty quickly, and the tv was full of anchors and reporters debating about what would be done in counterattack. I remember thinking, “I really should go about my day, or else the terrorists win.” I half-heartedly tried to go out to Bed, Bath & Beyond and walked inside to find out they were closing anyway. Thank goodness.
We lived in northern New Jersey for awhile when I was young, and there were quite a few people that we knew that could have been in the city that day. Thankfully, we didn’t lose anyone. But I was surprised to see a familiar name on the news days later: the pastor of our old church, St. Joseph’s, Father Mychal Judge, had been declared Victim #1 by the NYC coroner’s office. He died when he was hit by falling debris when the south tower collapsed, while giving last rites in in the north tower.
The things I remember most are the days after the attacks. How nice people were to each other. How sad I felt that this was something so unusual that I noticed it. Doors were held, cars were allowed to merge, people said hello to one another, please, thank you, and all in this kind of zombie-like haze. Everyone seemed sedate, saddened by the sheer weight of what had happened. American pride surged in a way I had never experienced before. You couldn’t get an American flag anywhere, and I had to settle for red, silver and blue stars from a party store to decorate my dorm room door. God Bless America murals started going up on barns and abandoned buildings that faced highways. It was amazing, how the country banded together as one, to say, “We will carry on, we will honor those who lost their lives, and we will triumph.”
Now, not even ten years later, it seems we’re back to our old ways. The country is embroiled in a barbaric conflict over whether people of the same gender should be allowed to marry, the media is fanning the flames of vicious debates on a “Ground Zero Mosque” that is really a simple community center, a Florida pastor is calling for “Burn a Koran Day,” promoting the kind of religious intolerance that goes against the very founding principle of the United States.
I hope with this anniversary we can remember what it is to be American and to be free, and honor those that have died protecting our freedom. Our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech,and our freedom to be who we are without fear. And maybe we can spend more time thinking about what would finally be a fitting memorial to September 11, 2001, and come together to build it and dedicate it instead of thinking about ways to bring down our fellow Americans.