On the morning of September 11, 2001, I sat in my home office with my one-and-a-half-year-old on my lap putting the finishing touches on what now seems a petty commentary for the local newspaper. When that first plane crashed into the first tower, igniting a chain of events that would forever alter history and steal the lives of thousands, I was writing an article about poorly behaved parents lacking manners at their children’s open house. I was outraged at their childish and entitled behavior and THAT was going to be my op-ed piece for the week – I intended to make a statement and a difference, darn it! That was the most significant thing that happened to me that week until my sister-in-law called and told me to turn on the news. To answer Alan Jackson’s question, that’s where I was when the world stopped turning.
Like so many other Americans watching the scene unfold on the “Today Show,” I was in naïve disbelief, assuming quite confidently it was all an accident that would later be spelled out in news briefs as “pilot error” or “engine malfunction.”
And then the second plane hit the second tower, and it was undeniably obvious that it was no accident.
I will never forget those moments of sheer shock and unnerving reality unfolding before my eyes. I sank into the navy blue sofas we had inherited from my in-laws and watched, wondering where in all of the chaos they were. They both worked in Washington, D.C. at the time, and we weren’t sure if they were at the Pentagon or the Capital that day. I was paralyzed with fear and uncertainty as the world I knew changed in more ways than I could ever have predicted.
The next few hours were filled with worry. We couldn’t reach our family in D.C. Phone calls weren’t going through and I found myself glued to the television looking for answers. I knew the TV wasn’t going to tell me their whereabouts, but I hung on every word, every image, hoping to make sense of the terror before us. There was no sense to make of it and we had no way of knowing if they were safe, so we waited.
For half a second, I remembered my article and the subject matter caused me to suddenly feel so small. I couldn’t submit such a silly rant while our nation was under attack. I called my editor and told her I wanted to replace my submission with a more relevant piece, but our deadline was fast approaching and there was no time to change what was going to press. I was beyond disappointed, but I honestly don’t know that I would’ve been able to adequately produce in writing the raw emotions of my perplexed state had there been time. I wasn’t thinking like a journalist – I was thinking like a mother, a daughter, a wife, a human, an American.
It seemed for a while as if the nation was holding its breath, but no people as much as the families of those unaccounted for. You see, my family wasn’t on a plane, or in a tower, or the Pentagon, or a Pennsylvania field. It took about 12 hours to confirm they were safe, but our wait eventually ended in reassurance. For thousands of others – husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters – the wait persisted, and for so many, ended with the worst possible news.
My then toddler is now 15, and the children of those lost on 9/11 have grown, as well. My husband and I took our kids to New York City for Easter weekend last year and our hotel was nestled right next door to the Freedom Tower. We visited the 9/11 Memorial on Easter Sunday, and it was a surreal experience in itself. There was a girl about Madeline’s age there with her mother who lingered at what must have been her father’s name carved in the bronze panel. She quietly sobbed into her mother’s chest as she clung tightly to her only living parent. My children silently observed this scene, all understanding on different levels what was happening.
It’s 14 years later. The world has changed dramatically, but some things remain the same. Parents still behave poorly and act entitled, whether at their child’s open house, a parent-teacher conference, or a soccer game. Bad people who mean our nation harm still exist, and will stop at nothing to forward their cause. Society still leans towards complacency. I’m not bashing society: it’s just human nature to move on with life and forget.
But we cannot forget. We cannot become complacent and naïve to the evils of the world, if for no other reason than to honor the memories of the 2,977 people who died that day, as well as those who died fighting for our country since then. We must remain vigilant in their honor.
Your social media will (hopefully) be blowing up with posts about 9/11 today, many reminding you to never forget. But it’s not enough to never forget — we must actively remember. That begins with teaching our children about the events of that day, as many were too young to recall the magnitude of the attack or comprehend the far-reaching devastation it caused, as well as the years of war and additional loss that followed. Teach them how our country pulled together, about the volunteers who put their lives on pause to comfort, feed, and provide rest to those who worked tirelessly at Ground Zero. Teach them about the heroes, both those who were servants of the community dispatched to do as they were trained, but also those who acted without an official title because they knew they had to do something, anything. Most importantly, teach them about the families that were forever changed because of their immeasurable loss.
It is not enough to never forget – I know I couldn’t forget if I tried.
Remember. Teach. Act. Remain vigilant. And if you haven’t yet today, hug the people you love RIGHT NOW. You never know what tomorrow might bring.