It didn't dawn on me what today was, until I was riding the El to meet Lauren for lunch. At each and every train station, there were police officers with bomb sniffing dogs. At first, I thought, "Is there something going on in the city today? Some dignitary in town?" And then I remembered, today is September 11th. Other than a brief shiver that ran down my spine, I didn't give it much further thought until this evening, when I ran across a block of programs on the History Channel dedicated to that event. Particularly chilling for me was a documentary constructed from amateur footage shot that day by real people, spliced together to create a real-time narrative of the attack and the collapse of the towers.
What struck me, was how many details from that day I'd already allowed to slip from my mind. The papers fluttering through the air; the debris left over from people who had been going about their daily working lives strewn across the ground, interspersed with twisted metal, shards of glass, and covered in a thick grey dust; stunned onlookers wandering zombie-like through the city; all that noxious, black smoke streaming from the buildings before they collapsed. It troubled me that I had to be reminded of all these things.
I can recall exactly where I was on September 11, 2001. It was the start of my junior year of high school. I had first period gym class, and we'd been outside playing tennis, so we hadn't heard the news of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. I walked into my second period class -- A.P. U.S. History, where the television had been left on by the previous teacher. On the screen was the image of smoke billowing from the World Trade Center. Before I had time to process it, my teacher came in, and turned off the television. I will always remember what he said as he did it: "You can hear about this later. For now, let's get down to the business of history, shall we?"
"Let's get down to the business of history." What could have possibly been more historic than watching the September 11th attacks unfold? Of course, there was no way of knowing their significance at the time. Still, in the days that followed, that flippant remark would echo through my mind over and over.
I don't remember much else about that day. The school was put on lockdown for a long time, and my history teacher tried to deliver some comforting, contextualizing words of solace. I can't remember a single one of them. I can remember sitting in my biology class, the whole class watching the television in horrified silence. Mostly, I remember not knowing if the four planes were the end of the attack, wondering if there were more hijacked planes, and not knowing where they might be headed. I remember being scared for my dad, who works downtown, calling home from a payphone to see where he was, and being completely and utterly relieved that he hadn't gone in to work that day. But that's where the memories stop. Somehow, I got home that day. We probably had dinner together as a family. I know we spent days glued to the television set, watching the coverage on CNN. I can remember that Caesar, a relatively new addition to our family at the time, could sense the tension and sadness in the air, and he stayed close to us that entire week, wanting to be held on our laps.
I knew even then that the world had changed in some fundamental, not yet fully comprehensible way. Over time, those changes have become apparent, from the obvious realities of our ongoing War on Terror and the nightmare that has become air travel, to the small differences, like the knot that forms in the pit of my stomach whenever I see a low-flying plane near the city. I think it is impossible to have lived through and witnessed the events of September 11, 2001 without being altered in some way. Watching the documentary tonight, and reliving those memories made me consider how fresh the wounds of 9/11 still are, even nine years later. Some of the details and nuances may fade, but we will always remember that day.
What kind of feelings does the 9/11 anniversary stir up for you? What do you remember about that day?