9/11: Twenty Years Later

Where were you on 9/11?

It’s a question all of us have asked each other; for those of us who were alive and old enough to remember.

Americans seem to find themselves asking that type of question every so often when a major event happens.

  • The Pearl Harbor attack
  • The assassination of President Kennedy
  • The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr
  • The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster

Just like everyone else, I remember every single moment of that day. The perfectly blue sky. The confusion as we tried to understand what happened. The panic as we realized we had colleagues on planes that morning. The relief when we knew they were safe. The profound sadness when we learned two colleagues from different offices were on the hijacked flights. The shock when word made it around the office that the sister of another colleague was in one of the Towers. The focus when I drove to School 9 in Belleville to check on the mother of one of my best friends from high school; her father worked in the Towers and thankfully made it home that day. As I drove down Greylock Parkway in Belleville, I couldn’t believe the Twin Towers just weren’t there. Memories run together and are separate at the same time.

A few days later I sat in shock as I thought about a job interview I had at the Towers not long before the attack. I was excited. My friend’s father coached me on how to maneuver through the security checks. I don’t remember the name of the company I was interviewing with or the name of the person from Human Resources. He was emphatic when he explained the job would be in the Towers; that it wasn’t a remote job. He told me there were people who didn’t want to work in the Towers after the first terrorist attack. I remember clear as day saying “lighting doesn’t strike twice.”

9/11 Memorial World Trade Center
A photo from my one visit to the Memorial.

Oh how wrong I was.

If that job had worked out, I could’ve been right in the middle of that chaos. That thought still gives me shivers.

Growing up in Belleville, my house backed up to Hendrick’s Field; the Essex County public golf course. Planes would fly overhead all the time as we were on the approach to Newark Airport. I rarely paid attention to the noise overhead. When I was little, however, I do remember having nightmares of planes crashing on the golf course and seeing the fairways on fire in my dreams. Once the planes started to fly overhead again and that familiar noise was in the sky, I now look up every single time.

I’m lucky. The person I was most worried about came home that day. I know thousands of families will never be complete again.

I’ve only been to lower Manhattan two times in the last 20 years. Once after “the pile” turned into “the hole.” Once after a seminar that was a few blocks away, I walked to see the memorial. I haven’t been to the museum yet.

All these years later, I’m still not ready. I can’t tell you why. I flinch when I hear someone use the term “ground zero” and they aren’t referring to the attacks. I get annoyed when I see people planning events – happy events – on 9/11 each year. I don’t understand.

We all have feelings about that day; sadness, depression, shock, anger. We felt it then and many still feel it.

But I’m here to tell you, we need to keep talking about it. You see, we have an obligation. We made a promise to never forget.

We now have an entire generation that were not alive when that horrible day happened. Just like how I wasn’t alive when Pearl Harbor was attacked. To me at first, it was just a date in history. Then I heard first-hand accounts from survivors, from men who enlisted to fight in WWII, from family members who did what they could to support the war effort. It wasn’t just history anymore. I understood more.

Just like our parents and grandparents had an obligation to us to provide their first hand accounts and talk about what they experienced, no matter how painful it may have been, we have an obligation to future generations to share our stories, no matter the pain it causes.

We promised to never forget. I intend to keep that promise.

Remembering September 12th

Tomorrow is the 19th anniversary of the most horrific attack on United States soil. Like many, I remember every minute of the day. The report on the radio that there was “some kind of accident” at the Twin Towers. Searching feverishly for the flight information for two of my colleagues that were flying out of Newark Airport that morning. The panic I tried to quash in my heart as I waited to hear word on my friend’s father. Watching the smoke rise as I drove to School 9 in my hometown of Belleville to check on my friend’s mom.

The 9-11 Memorial in New York City

I remember my husband calling to check on me from the school where he was teaching at the time. I told him I was going to School 9 to check on my friend’s mother. He said one word; “good.” He said he was staying at school until every child was picked up and to see if anything else was needed to be done.

I grew up seeing those two gleaming buildings as I drove down Division Avenue in Belleville. There’s a picture somewhere of me and my “lil’ sis” on her front lawn and you can see them far off in the distance. Now, her father’s 9-11 pin is proudly framed and hangs on the wall in our home.

We watched police, fire fighters, and EMTs rush to the site, never to be seen again. We watched people help each other try to get out alive. We watched people go their local hospital and wait on line for hours to donate blood, anticipating tens of thousands of wounded. The wounded never came.

We all talk about the shock and horror of 9-11. But this year, more than any other year, I choose to remember 9-12.

Within a short period of time, we started to hear the stories of people staying behind with those who couldn’t get out. Men carrying down those who were handicapped. Others who went up the stairs to try and help evacuate those who were trapped instead of running to safety.

America came together to fight back.

We said with one voice – no. We said we stand together as Americans and we refuse to be afraid. We were Americans first. Not Democrat, Republican, or Independent. Not liberal, conservative, or moderate. Not black or white.

Americans.

It is safe to say 2020 has been an incredibly tough year. Frustration. Loss. Sadness. Confusion.

Today, we are a fractured nation on many fronts. There’s a lot of yelling and not much listening.

I wish everyone could remember our nation’s response on 9-12 this year.

Every year, many of us utter the words “never forget.” May we never forget 9-11, but even more, may we never forget 9-12.