Every generation has that “Where Were You Moment?” when ordinary lives stop and a news story brings us all together. Sometimes, it’s one of the defining moments of your childhood. For our grandparents, it was Pearl Harbor. For our parents, the Kennedy Assassination.
For us, it was 9/11.
While a lot of people talk about where they were, whether they were in an office or picking up kids, most of the people reading this were in elementary school, like me. And it became the society we grew up in. Even when the world stopped in May when Bin Laden was executed by US Navy SEALs, it was college student who celebrated most prominently in the streets of New York at Ground Zero, or at the White House in DC, and campuses across this nation. It was the culmination of a dark and looming boogeyman we all feared for our short lifetime.
I wanna share my experience briefly.
I was in sixth grade homeroom class, waiting for class. I remember my teacher getting a cell phone call and she looked shaken. She told us that there was a plane accident at the Twin Towers. We didn’t know any better. As kids, we were still innocent. I thought a Cessna bounced off the building. Some days pass by, I still wish that’s all it was.
As the day progressed, I remember us eleven and twelve year olds, still unphased, joking and laughing like it was another day. By Math class, we heard about the second plane and the Pentagon, and still, it didn’t sink. We joked that these small one person Cessna pilots can’t fly. No one died in our minds. It was unfathomable. Still is.
They escorted us to the auditorium and that’s when things started to feel odd. We waited for parents to pick us up. My mom, God Bless her Soul, was working as a school aide there, a job she loved dearly. She found me and told me she had to make sure all the kids went home, but to go to the Teacher’s Lounge.
A television was playing.
For the first time, I saw the looped footage of the crashes, the collapses and the plumes of smoke. I could feel my innocence rushing out of my system, my brain trying to cone up with a better explanation for this. Maybe a hoax, a movie, dear God, something else. Once I saw bloodied New Yorkers escaping the dust-filled warzone of Lower Manhattan, I knew that cold raw truth. Terrorists used our own means of transportation against us, as missiles of warfare. To this day, I still can’t grasp the sheer evil of such an action. And in that moment, I cried, in fear and shock that terrorists could strike our very core.
I sat and watched CBS – the only network still on the air because their communications tower was on the Empire State Building instead of Tower One of the Twin Towers – and I was transfixed. I even saw when 7 World Trade Center collapsed at 5:45PM on live TV, just minutes after a reporter showed the lobby damage. I remember hearing that he got physically sick knowing he almost died.
I rode with my mom on the school bus dropping kids off and returning to the school for one last ride home, and I just started recording broadcast. To me it felt like history. But as I collected newspaper clipping for days like a little hoarder, I tried looking for an answer to why this happened. Of course, I threw out those clippings and I don’t know whether I have those tapes still, but after 10 years, I’ll still never get why.
I do feel it was a defining moment. It made me more interested in politics and media, it made me a more reserved and humble person, and it also made me really how wonderful this city and country can be. Of course I had my moments of outrage for the Iraq War and how things progressed politically over the decade or my annoyance at how while the more things change in New Yorkers, the more they can stay the same. Yet I can’t forget the heroism of ordinary people risking life and limb for strangers. The police, fire, rescuers, families, friend, victims, etc. While a decade may have passed, I’ll still not understand how or why such an event had to happen.
9/11 was not just a physical attack, it was a psychological attack. Share your thoughts about that day.