Nine years ago today our country was attacked.
Everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news that the World Trade Center had been hit by an airplane. Everyone remembers the moment they realized this wasn’t something out of the blue, but rather a premeditated terrorist attack on our soil.
Personally, I was sitting in home room in my freshman year of high school. We had an hour delay that day because it was Meet the Teacher’s night the day before, and our principle, Sr. Nancy, broke into the morning announcements to inform us that the North Tower was hit. As we moved to first bell, the South Tower was hit, and less than an hour later we heard from her again.
Within two hours our entire world changed.
I can still remember the panic that set in as I tried to finish that day at school. I had just moved to Cincinnati from Michigan, but had previously lived in New Jersey, just outside of New York, and Baltimore, Maryland. I had friends living on Long Island. I had seen the WTC and Washington, D.C. countless times as family traipsed to the East coast to visit the Big Apple and Capitol while we lived there.
9/11 touched me in a profound way.
When I finally made it home after that exhaustive day all I could do was sit down and watch the horror unfold in front of me. I needed to see it, to hear it, to feel it.
I have never been able to fully leave that moment in time. I have found that I have connections to those who lost their lives in the WTC and Pentagon that day. I have every single newspaper article that ran in the Cincinnati Enquirer in a garbage bag in my closet. I feel compelled to watch every single special that I come across on television about that day and everything about it still touches me physically and emotionally.
I was able to see the Pentagon shortly after 9/11 as my sister moved to the D.C. area. The most profound part of that experience was visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. As we watched the changing of the guard, it became apparent that the soldier on duty that day, as well as any early morning visitors, would have seen the plane crash into the Pentagon.
I wasn’t able able to visit Ground Zero, though, until this summer.
It was the first time I had been back to New York in 20 years (and if you know my age, then you know that was a lifetime ago), and it was the only place on my ‘Must Visit’ list.
We spoke with the concierge at our hotel prior to starting our journey to Lower Manhattan and she told us that her grandmother has never been there since 2001, and she tries to avoid it as much as possible.
I had no idea what to expect. How would I react to my first glimpse of the site of that violence?
The subway ride down to the site was eventful only because the Pride Parade was happening the same day. My fellow passengers imbued the trip with a light-hearted fervor that I hoped would last through my visit of the site and keep me from the tears I thought I would shed.
Emerging from the stale air of the subway station, my coworker, with whom I was traveling, and I came out on Fulton Street between Nassau and Broadway. I don’t know if I had ever stood there as a small child or if all of my memories were from movies set in New York or cameras capturing 9/11, but I knew that I had (at least mentally) been there before, and that’s when things started to hit me.
Then, we turned the corner and saw the construction …
… and I felt nothing.
It’s construction. Aside from signs on the fence surrounding the area telling me to visit them at WTCProgress.com, I’d be hard pressed to tell you that I was actually looking at Ground Zero.
A man hawking guide books to the disaster helped us put it in perspective. He pointed out landmark buildings around us, and as he spoke things started to come together.
After respectfully declining to spend $10 for a map on which he highlighted where the buildings used to be and thanking him for taking time to sell talk to us, we walked past the FDNY Ten House and turned the corner to find a full-blown bronze mural.
The FDNY Memorial Wall bas-relief sculpture was shocking to find. I’d never heard that there was any sort of mural near the site, but it’s there and it has become a memorial where visitors paid their respects and left tokens of their appreciation, including those of the most heart-wrenching kind.
That site, at 124 Liberty Street, I’ve come to realize, is what 9/11 truly is and what it truly means. I still feel the panic grip me as I watch footage of the planes flying into the buildings that day, but the site of those buildings, while a symbol of what we lost, is not what I should have been visiting.
I couldn’t get closer to the tragedy than I already had. 9/11 may have physically happened in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania, but it honestly affected everyone everywhere.
I’m not special because I had lived near New York or D.C. I don’t feel the enormity of the terrorism differently because I know some of those who perished on that day.
It affects us all, and it affects us all in different ways.
So while I have been watching 9/11 remembrance shows all week and will take a few moments to myself to reflect today, I will also sit down to watch college football. Because life goes on, but we must always remember.
So please, remember in your own way today. And join me in saying “Thank You” to those who lost their lives as they tried to help others and those who continue to fight for our freedom.
And if you want to read some of the most gripping and compelling pieces ever written from a survivor that day, please read Penelope Trunk‘s accounts of that day and her life beyond it. While many have recounted their own experiences, Penelope’s touches me more than most. I think it is because I found her blog well after 9/11 and only found out that she was there after I had already grown to respect her as a writer. Still, it is powerful to read.