September 11, 2001, did not seem like a day where over 3000 people would die. It did not seem like a day that would change so many lives. It did not seem like a day that would change America forever. It was just an ordinary day: a bright, sunny Tuesday in early September. Summer had just ended, children were back in school, and everything seemed normal. Until the first plane hit the North Tower, until the destruction began, it was just a normal day.
Ten years have passed. A full decade has come and gone since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Much has happened. Much has changed. America has changed. The world has changed. We, as people, have changed. We have lived a decade carrying around the weight of September 11th. We are not always conscious that we are carrying it, but we are.
Memories of 9/11 still haunt most of us. Nearly all of us still remember what we were doing that day, where we were when we found out, and how we dealt with it. I remember I was waiting at my house for a bee exterminator to come. It was a beautiful early fall day. He was supposed to come at around 8:30, and when he arrived he asked what was going on in New York City. I didn’t know. So I went inside and turned on the TV. When I saw what had happened, my first thoughts were not terrorism. I thought it was a terrible plane accident. Until I saw the second plane hit. Then I knew. It was the first time I ever really thought about terrorism in the United States.
When I was in school, we used to practice getting under our desks and hiding and trying to stay safe from bombs, but it had been a long time since then, and this was much more real. My daughter worked down in that area, and I didn’t know it at the time, but my daughter-in-law was down there too, in a court room. Thankfully they both survived.
I remember later hearing about all the losses, from people I knew and people I knew of. I remember all the stories about people who were supposed to be there but luckily weren’t, including my brother-in-law. And I remember thinking about all those emergency responders from all over the Hudson Valley gearing up so quickly to go down and help with the emergency. And I remember later on going to a lot of memorial services. It was a day of anxiety. And, even after ten years, the memories are still very vivid.
I recently had a conversation with my summer interns about this tenth anniversary. They are mostly high school and college age, and were quite young in 2001. Some of them remember that horrific day very well. One, now a student at Vassar, said, “I was in fifth grade and still remember my parents picking me up from school and saying in a somber voice, ‘There has been a terrorist attack.’ I understood what they meant when we went to the Hudson River and saw smoke rising from New York City. It was a sobering moment in my life, one that continues to define who I am and how I live my life.”
Another intern was only 5 years old in 2001, and she can still remember her experience. “Both my parents worked in the city, but my mother had off that day because she had to have a parent teacher conference. I remember my dad had a hard time getting home that day, and I remember watching the news replaying the footage over and over and over. The next day my teacher tried to explain it to the class, but it didn’t really work because we were five, and it was all just really scary.” These two, both young children at the time, vividly remember what they did on September 11, 2001.
And yet, to several of the others, memories of that day are confused and convoluted. One of my interns said, “It’s all kind of fuzzy really. I was in the second grade; I didn’t really understand what was going on. I knew that I got out of school early, and I knew that something bad had happened. I remember worrying about my dad being able to get home from the city. I remember that my first-cousin-once-removed worked in the World Trade Center, but thankfully he was habitually late to work and wasn’t there when the plane hit. I remember stories told after, when I was older, about where we were and what we did. But, at the time, I don’t know if I had any real idea of what had just happened.”
Should we allow these memories to fade? To some extent we must move on. We have rebuilt and we cannot let this horrific event cripple or divide us. And yet, we must remember. We must remember those who lost their lives in this tragedy. We must remember the bravery of those who rushed to help the people in trouble. And, above all, we must remember to never let this happen again. 9/11 was an act of hatred. We must remember not to foster such hatred. We must stand together, unified, and never let hate rule and divide us. We must try to make a world that is safe and peaceful, a world where events like 9/11 never happen.