I normally have very concise opinions and emotions—about everything. Yet somehow, I still don’t believe that I have fully sorted out my feelings over what happened on 9/11. Each year I want to write something profound and reflective, but I typically find that I can’t. At times, I am overwhelmed. Other times, I won’t let myself “go there.”
All I know is that every year my heart gets heavier and heavier. I am beyond blessed to not have known anyone in the towers. It was such a different world for all of us post-9/11; a heightened sense of everything from security to awareness… and vulnerability. I am so deeply moved whenever I think of those who witnessed the attacks first hand and, of course, those who lost their lives.
I am so grateful for the gracefulness with which my junior high handled it all. We, ironically, were made to feel extremely safe. My account of the day is below.
I sat in my third period 8th grade math class at Cunningham Jr. High in Brooklyn… 13 years ago today.
It was a normal day. From what I can recall, nothing particularly exciting was slated to occur. I remember odd things—like the fact that we had the lights turned off in the classroom. I don’t remember the mood in the room or whether the class was subdued or chatty. All I remember is that our lesson was underway.
Sometime during the period, our principal echoed in over the PA system asking that teachers close their classroom windows. At this request, we all turned to look outside only to see a huge billowing cloud of black smoke in an otherwise beautifully clear day. Amazingly, none of us really blinked an eye. There may have been some, “Wows” or other phrases of exasperation, but no one panicked. I—and everyone else, I’m sure—figured that it was probably just a fire; a really impressive fire.
Our teacher used the rod to close the tall window and we continued on with our lesson without missing a beat.
The bell rang and we went to fourth period. Fourth period, for me, meant band—one of my favorite classes and one of my favorite teachers. He told us that the principal did not want teachers discussing the day’s events with students, but that he thought we should be privy to what was going on. None of us really had cell phones back then and, therefore, we pretty much had zero access to the outside world during the school day. He pushed a television into the room and proceeded to tell us about the plane crashes. He let the news cast run while we essentially had a free, though brief, period.
None of us understood.
I don’t think we grasped the concept of an attack. And given the fact that almost an hour had passed since the billowing smoke visual with everyone remaining so calm, I don’t think any of us truly considered what was happening.
About half way through the period, we were escorted into the auditorium along with the rest of the student body. One of the faculty members stood at the front of the room and vaguely explained what was going on. It was still probably unclear for her as well—but we could tell from her intensity that it was certainly more serious than we suspected. She let us know that we would be called outside to meet with our parents as they arrived to pick us up.
Rather quickly, students were ushered out as name after name was called. I remember speaking with this Jewish girl in my class who must have somehow gotten in contact with someone in her family because she knew the entire situation. She had also already formulated an opinion and made some very harsh anti-Islamic comments for which she was immediately chastised by some of my classmates.
At some point my little sister and I were finally united with our mother who I remember looked—not quite frantic—but certainly stressed; not to mention, very relieved to see us. My uncle, who was waiting for us, drove us home in his van.
I listened to the voice messages on our home phone—several messages from out of state relatives who were panicking over our safety. There was nothing on the radio other than live updates or eerie pre-recorded messages announcing the station ID. TV programming included live newscasts. We watched it for hours. The image that has stuck in my head the most included a shot of smoke surrounding the towers—you could see a man jumping. There are two stories that have remained with me. One involved an elderly couple who held hands as they leaped. The other was the tale of what witnesses heard immediately before the planes struck—a loud vibrating noise, almost like that of a train.
I remember—sitting there watching the news with my mom and sisters—feeling as though I was desensitized. In retrospect, “shocked” may be a more accurate description. I was certainly affected, but I was never actually physically shaken until I watched the Michael Moore documentary, Fahrenheit 911.
My only semi-reflective thought about these events is as follows: It’s so easy to forget—amid conspiracy theories, matters of race, political issues, pop-culture distractions, etc.—that we are extremely lucky.
I do realize the long-term impact that living through 9/11 has had on me. It has made me appreciate the fact that I live in this country; a country where I do feel free and safe. There are serious issues, but my criticisms pale in comparison and I don’t want to ever imagine having to experience 9/11 on a daily. At the same time, I am super-empathetic to those that do. It’s one of the reasons I stay away from digging too deeply into my emotions. They’re a bit convoluted. I have to remind myself that it’s OK to feel just as sad over what happened to us as I do for all of those people who we, the U.S., have affected time and time again.
Each year I try to watch the live broadcast of the ceremony. I also try to reflect on my own… just so that I truly never forget.