Some days turn out different than we imagine. Some turn out better, some worse, but some are a nightmare that entire nations cannot forget.
Fifteen years ago, I was working in New York City, on 26th street, not too far from the World Trade Center. Today, many people have been sharing where they were at the time; it is, sadly, our generation’s JFK assassination. I thank G-d that I was not at work, but at a doctor’s appointment out on Long Island. As we sat in the waiting room, someone coming in announced that a plane had crashed into the Twin Towers. Ridiculous, we scoffed, or, how stupid could the pilot be. Our first thought was that it was some kind of error, a small prop-plane in the wrong place at the wrong time—and woe to him. Yes, that would have only damaged the plane, probably the pilot too, depending on the height of the plane. However, a short while later someone else announced that a second plane had crashed into the Twin Towers, into the other tower. You could hear the collective shiver run through the room as we processed that this was probably no accident after all; this was something else. We all sat there quietly as reports came in, going in for our appointments as our turns came as if this was just a normal day, proceeding as planned. But it was only the beginning of the nightmare.
When we left the office we were on Sunrise Highway, a road which runs directly from Long Island towards the city; you can see the New York skyline in the distance. As we drove home, we saw black smoke covering the skyline. When we got home, we turned to the TV for answers; we needed to know what was going on. We were watching as the first tower fell, hands over our mouths. Just a little while later, they seemed to be showing the tower fall again; I could not believe they would show it as it was so awful to watch the first time. Then I realized that it was, in fact, the second tower falling too.
I have friends who are EMTs, medics, who went down to volunteer at Ground Zero, two words which still chill me. I have not, to this day, asked them what it was like. I don’t think I want those answers.
Today, I live far away from the site of the towers, and from many whose lives were forever changed that regular Tuesday in September. School started here last week, and I am sorry to admit that I didn’t really plan to give a lesson on 9/11 today, just to mention it. However, some of my students wanted to discuss it, so we did. It is amazing how far reaching that event was, as children who were not even born at the time mentioned a relative, a friend of the family, or someone they knew who was directly affected by it. While talking with my eighth graders, I asked if they understood how much this one event has changed the world as we know it. Like any good teacher, I didn’t give them the answer but instead told them to find the information. Then, like any good teacher, I went home to prepare my own answer to this question. While certain things jump out immediately, while looking it up, several others came to light. The world is a different place in some respects.
America is at war, and has been more or less over the past 15 years, trying to right a colossal wrong by seeking vengeance cloaked as justice. Sometimes it seems to be at war with its own citizens, with airport security personnel not knowing whether they should dress down a granny in a wheelchair or a toddler wearing overalls, traumatizing sick children with heart transplants and running roughshod over privacy. This happens at airports, where the security lines are getting longer despite somehow still not giving passengers the feeling that a proper inspection is being done. Then again, as I saw this summer, mall parking lots are wide open and when you get to the doors of most major shopping centers, you can just waltz right in. Not to give any monsters ideas, but when security is a farce at the very place where this all started and almost non-existent elsewhere, I do not feel secure in America. Has anything been accomplished with our “War on Terror?” Oh, yes, there are even more terrorists, and their organization is spreading like a modern day plague. It worked just about as well as the war on drugs, I think.
This piece truly started as a way to memorialize all those who just went to work that day, the heroes who rushed in to save them, and the families and friends of those who must spend far more than one day a year missing them. To the heroes and the fallen, we will not forget. To those who still have lessons to learn from that day, you need to remember that what’s important to take from that day is that it should never happen again.