“Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.” – George W. Bush, 9/11/2001
Eleven years ago yesterday, I sat in front of my television, a little blonde 6th grader, holding my little brother’s hand, wondering what could’ve possibly gone wrong that two planes had flown into the two tallest buildings in NYC. I could feel my mom’s panic, sense her fear, as she rushed out the door to pick up my sister Kimberly from preschool. We’d been watching cartoons, home from school because of, no joke, a flea infestation in the building. I thought it was a day that would be spent relaxing in my PJs, having lunch with my mom and Kyle, and watching the TV shows that I only got to see when I stayed home sick.
Instead, it was a day full of terror. We could see the smoke from the corner of our block in Queens. My young eyes watched in disbelief TV clips of planes flying into buildings, people jumping from their 50th story office windows, and New Yorkers running through the streets, screaming, covered in dust and debris. We spent hours in church, all holding hands, praying. I watched adults – my parents, teachers, and friends – crying. That may have been when it knew it was all real. The planes, the buildings, the death, the fear. It wasn’t a bad dream; I wasn’t going to shake myself awake, and with it, shake away those images. They would be ingrained my mind forever.
I remember visiting Manhattan with my dad, prior to the attacks, and craning my neck as far back as it would go to see the top of the Twin Towers. They were so tall and so shiny, I remember having to squint my eyes. My dad told me that on the top floor, there was a restaurant where you could look out the windows during your meal and see the whole city. And at the very top, you could stand on the roof and look around and see for almost 5 miles in any direction. I never got to see it.
My mom told me that it was called a “terrorist attack;” someone had done it to hurt and to scare New York and America. She explained the pilots of the planes weren’t the “bad guys;” the bad guys had pushed the pilots out of the way, and they were the ones who flew them into the buildings. I couldn’t understand it, couldn’t comprehend how there could be someone so evil that would want to punish innocent people.
Eleven years later, I still can’t really understand it. I don’t think I ever will.
This is the first time in four years that I’ve been home in NYC for the anniversary. Last night, as I was driving home, I pulled into the gas station on the corner of my block and looked west, down Hillside Avenue. It was crisp and clear last night, the exact weather it was on that tragic day in 2001; so clear that I could see the Tribute in Light, the two “towers” of blue lights shining from lower Manhattan where those two majestic buildings once stood. And it brought tears to my eyes.
It made me think about where we stand now, as a country, in regards to the attacks on September 11th. None of us will ever forget what happened that day in NYC, Washington D.C., and just outside of Pittsburg, PA, but it’s important to remember more than just that tragic morning.
It’s important to remember what happened on September 12th, 2001. It’s important to remember what happened the next day, and the day after that, and weeks and months that followed. Remember how strangers came together, reaching out their hands and opening their doors to those in need. Remember how people donated so much of what they had to the victims and to their families, people they had never met before in their lives. Remember how people gladly hung American flags outside their homes. Remember the pride we felt in our politicians, in our police forces, in our fire departments, and in our emergency rescue workers. Remember how for once, we weren’t “New Yorkers” or “Floridians,” we weren’t Catholics or Jews, we weren’t democrats or republicans. We were Americans. United. That’s something else I’ll never forget, and for that memory, I’m grateful.
I’m proud to be a New Yorker, and proud to be an American, part of a country that has proved itself defiant, moving forward, yet always reflecting on the things that got us where we are today.
God Bless America.