I was 10 years old and in the 4th grade.
I remember it was a Tuesday and we all had school. The only two things I can recall from that school day were 1) I was sitting in my desk writing a short story about a crab with a metallic arm/pincher (storytelling bug sure bit me early).
and 2) There was no recess that day. My teacher, Mrs. Novak, informed us that the reason was “just to be safe.” No context or details were given.
Just to be safe.
The rest of the day proceeded as it normally did. We were taught our lessons, given our homework, etc. and went home. As we normally did. Nothing else seemed out of the ordinary for us innocent kids.
Ho-hum another school day. Ho-hum another ride home.
I remember getting off the bus, walking towards my house, and opening the door…
And BAM, there it was, the television in plain sight.
Showcasing the burning towers. And the blackest smoke I had ever seen.
I remember my mother, in the kitchen, filling me in. Boy, was she upset. I remember the afternoon edition of the local paper sitting on the counter:
DAY OF TERROR
WORLD TRADE CENTER DESTROYED, PENNYSLVANIA FIELD, PENTAGON DAMAGED BY PLANES
I think that was the one day of our lives where our parents went the extra mile to really ensure our safety. I wasn’t alive when Pearl Harbor or JFK happened, but I have a pretty good idea how openly distraught people were at the time.
When I first saw the images on the TV screen, I thought someone planted a bomb in the Empire State Building. Mind you, I didn’t know what the World Trade Center was before 9/11. Not a clue. The adults around me were losing it in the comfort of their homes, though keeping a lid on it in public (like my 4th grade teacher did).
See, teachers across the country were learning about the day’s events on the TVs either in their (empty) classrooms or the break rooms. They took extra pains to keep info regarding the attacks away from their students. They didn’t want to instill fear, which is what the terrorists were aiming for.
Here’s what’s strange: When I first learned about the attacks, I was actually…calm? Indifferent, if I may say that?
Let me offer some context. 9/11 was a few months after the execution of domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh. He bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995. 168 people lost their lives. McVeigh was ultimately put to death 6 years later. As his execution date drew near, he became a trending story in the media. I found myself heavily fascinated by the case, learning everything I could glean.
When 9/11 came about, maybe I was already desensitized to terrorism? Maybe I thought the occurrece of buildings blowing up and people dying was…normal?
Ho-hum, another bombing.
When adulthood came around, it dawned on me how messed up and horrifying the whole day actually was.
The passengers (including children) on the planes had to process their impending, inevitable deaths.
The people in the towers were given the choice between burning alive or jumping from 1,000 stories up.
The rest of us are fortunate that we won’t find ourselves in such a circumstance.
Today, September 11, 2020, marks 19 years since that day. There are people voting in the upcoming election who weren’t even alive when it happened. It’s difficult to wrap my head around this. Time comes at you at the speed of light and before you know it, it’s gone.
What I find perturbing is the world seems to be moving on from these events, slowly but surely. But for the families, they never will. How can they? This year, the 9/11 ceremony was to be cancelled because of Covid-19 and was only overturned because of an outcry.
“Never forget” we say. But isn’t forgetting inevitable?
Think of our current generation. How often do we remember Pearl Harbor? Or even JFK?
History is an ever-growing tapestry and there’s only so much space on the wall. We say we’ll remember. But eventually, we’ll move on.
And then we’ll forget.