I don’t know anyone who died that day. Some might say that makes me less qualified to share my story of where I was and what I was doing on September 11, 2001. I was just an average person who went to work.
Yet, as the anniversary approaches, it surprises me that the events of that day are not touched upon more in your schools. I understand that you are only in third and seventh grades, so maybe you are considered too young to learn about terror attacks. Or maybe it is because you were not alive when it happened. Or maybe it is just too close to the start of a new school year.
I have to believe that one day, your schools will teach you about certain aspects of 9/11—things like the timeline of the attacks, al Qaeda, the bravery of the first responders and the Department of Homeland Security. However, what may be missing in those lessons is how life changed that day in big and not-so-big ways for the average American, for people like me and your dad.
I was 30 years old when terrorists killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Your dad and I had just celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary. We were starting to think about having you guys, but we were trying to get established in our careers and be financially ready. I had been working for four years since finishing my master’s degree. When I walked into work that morning, the doorman told me a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I assumed it was an unfortunate accident, like that small plane that once flew into the Empire State Building.
I was very wrong.
When terror struck on September 11, 2001, America as I knew it stopped too. Then it changed. I’d like you to learn more about how it changed.
Did you know that before 9/11, I didn’t have a cell phone? Your dad had one for his job in sales, and I knew college students with them, but not me. On 9/11, people who were murdered in the World Trade Center used their cell phones to call their loved ones and leave messages. Suddenly, having a cell phone seemed essential and smart. After 9/11, I got my first cell phone. That way, I could always reach your dad.
Did you know that before 9/11, there were no tickers or scrolling news on the TV screen except for one boring business channel that scrolled stock market returns? Those tickers started on every news channel on 9/11 because there was so much information coming in about the attacks, the victims and the perpetrators that the news anchors couldn’t keep up. Nowadays, those tickers are everywhere. Sometimes I’ll see mundane items like the weekend’s top movie scrolling across the bottom of the screen, and I’ll get angry. “That’s not why we needed scrolling news,” I think. “That’s not what a ticker is for.”
Did you know that before 9/11, flying could be fun? Yes, you had to pass through a metal detector and put your bag through one, but I don’t recall long lines or much inconvenience. You could walk with your friends or family to the gate, even if you weren’t flying. You could even meet them at the gate when their flight arrived. Post-9/11 is the only type of air travel you’ve ever known, with the long lines, the seriousness and the exhausting routines to outsmart potential terrorists. It is a necessary evil to keep us safe.
Did you know that as a result of the attacks on 9/11, all air traffic was grounded for several days? I will never forget the absolute silence in the skies. You don’t realize how many planes, big and little, commercial and private, fill the skies until you hear nothing. Nothing. It was an eerie, tangible reminder that our world had been rocked. I honestly hope that you never hear that silence.
Did you know that I couldn’t watch anything about 9/11 for years afterwards? It was too raw. Even now, as the anniversary approaches each year, I find myself crying. I’ve never told anyone that. I think it has to do with the initial shock and sadness. For weeks after 9/11, there was only bad or sad news on the TV round the clock, relayed both by the anchors and that new scrolling ticker. You don’t forget a barrage of bad news like that, day after day, no matter how many years pass.
I don’t want you to be sad about 9/11, though. I want you to be educated, courageous and strong about what happened. America as you know it may change as a result of terror one day, too. 9/11 is part of our story, but it is not the end of our story.
There’s one more thing I want you to know: I love you today, tomorrow and always. If living through 9/11 taught me anything, it’s that I should never stop telling my loved ones how much they mean to me.