Fier Thy Words

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The First Day of the Rest Of My Life: Remembering September 11th, 2001


“Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind”

-Nathaniel Hawthorne

Seven years.

Today marks seven years since that fateful September morning.

I’m not sure why, but seven years later, and for the first time in a number years since that tragic day I’ve been unable to get 9/11 off my mind.

It’s sort of scary how fast time has flown, but at least in my lifetime, and I’m sure this holds true for almost everybody else old enough to appreciate it, September 11th, 2001 will forever be a day nobody forgets.

You’ll never forget where were you when you first heard or saw what had happened.

You’ll never forget any of those heart wrenching images that have been forever etched into our minds.

You’ll never forget the feelings of helplessness and shock, accompanied by devastation and fear.

You’ll never forget the outpouring of spirit and resolve this country showed in the days, weeks and months following.

You’ll never forget the heroism and reaffirmed respect for the everyday people many of us to that point had taken for granted.

No, seven years later, we’ll never forget a day that in one way or another changed us for the rest of our lives.

Following the events that day in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, American citizens were given a collective wake up call, shook to their very cores and foundations, aware, perhaps for the first time, that the freedoms and liberties we’ve always overlooked were being threatened.

Personally, I was only 14, and starting my high school career.

I live in Queens, and I was on my way to school at around 9:30 (late for a city public school, but thanks to 4,500 students, I was on a split schedule which had my first class starting at 9:50).

I bring that up because when the first plane hit Tower 1 at 8:46, I was unknowingly sitting in my living room, watching SportsCenter.

I left about a half hour later to catch the bus, completely unaware of what was going on only miles away from where I live, and prepared for just another day.

I’ll never forget, nor do I think anybody else will, how stunningly perfect the weather was that day.

I can’t remember ever seeing a sky so clearly blue, and I remember pointing out to a friend of mine how gorgeous it happened to be that Tuesday morning.

Waiting for the bus, another friend of mine who was himself just arriving at the bus stop, asked me if I

had heard about what was going on at the World Trade Center, to which I naively replied no.

The bus stop happened to be at the bottom of a hill, the top of which gave (and still gives) anybody a picturesque view of Manhattan’s skyline.

We walked no more than half way up that hill, and looking out, I took what would end up being one final look at the Twin Towers.

Thick, billowing black smoke stained the cloudless sky, and for the first time in my life I was overcome by indescribable emotions.

Without knowing anything more than one of the most symbolic images I had come to know was up in flames, my friends and I got to school, where there was a surprising sense of calm, or perhaps just a widespread unawareness.

Whatever it was didn’t last long, as rumors fly through high school faster than light travels, and I can’t begin to tell you some of the absurd things students were saying.

Teachers had radios on, and there was a heightened sense of panic that began to spread.

I went to my first two classes of the day, the first of which was gym which consisted of nothing more than listening to the radio.  After that was math, and for whatever reason, one of the things about that day that stands out personally was just writing the date on my page.

At that moment, scribbling 9/11/01 on the upper left hand side of my notebook page, it all sort of hit me that what was going on today was going to make this date pretty darn important.

Among the few things about that day I don’t remember was whether or not I took notes that period, although I do remember asking my teacher if he had heard anything new by the time I got there.

After that second class, my best friend Joe and I made one of those in the moment decisions I doubt either of us will ever forget.  At only 14 years old, and in only our very first week in a new school, we agreed there was no way we could stay in school, completely left out in the dark with everything going on.

Both of our fathers worked in Manhattan, and his was a high ranking city government official who ended up being called down to the scene to set up a command post.

(While everybody we knew ended up being ok, we knew many others weren’t as fortunate.)

With the uncertainty on both of our minds, we walked out of school, without telling any teachers or more importantly, getting in touch with our parents, which in hindsight probably was among the dumbest decisions we could have made, especially considering his mother showed up less than an hour after we left to pick up both up.

Regardless, we walked home, and I’m typical, immature high school freshman form, I started cracking jokes, both because of how immature I know I was but also because with everything going on I figured it wouldn’t kill either of us to smile, even for a minute.

Walking from our high school to his house was anything but a short stroll, and under the circumstances that 20 minute walk felt like hours.

By the time we finally got home, only one network television station was coming in, as the antennas on top of the World Trade Center towers was used to send out those signals.

The headline running along the bottom of the screen was short but profound.

“World Trade Center Destroyed”

If you step back for a second and just think about that, seven years later it still gives you chills.

Nobody in their wildest dreams when seeing those buildings- whether it was up close visiting, noticing it from a distance or simply recognizing them as the symbolic columns of freedom they were- could have ever fathomed that in the span of less than 2 hours, they could be taken away from us.

Of course as symbolic as they were, they were merely buildings when putting in perspective the massive loss of life that day.

2,974 deaths which have been accounted for, with 24 names still considered missing (hijackers excluded).  More than 6,000 injured.

Thousands more who knew these people, and millions around the world who, to this day, who had the proverbial “first day of the rest of their lives” start that morning.

In the midst of one of the most historic Presidential campaigns going on- and let me join those, particularly New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg, in saying that neither Barack Obama or John McCain belong at the site today as regardless of how united they may appear (I’ll even be bold enough to say the current President has more of a right to be there than either of them)- this country deserves a day to remind itself how united WE are, and how despite the differences we have, the one thing we have in common is our privilege to call this country our own.

Seven years later, I can’t figure out why this seems to be hitting me harder than it usually does on this anniversary, but for what its worth, I stood proudly for the moment of silence my school had this morning.

I stood there remembering a day when thousands of innocent lives were lost, and millions more changed forever.

I stood there remembering the first day of the rest of my life.


September 11, 2008 - Posted by | Personal, Thoughts | , , ,

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