Today is September 11, 2021. It’s been 20 years since the wicked terrorist attacks that took down the beautiful and iconic World Trade Center. It is a day that encompasses even more tragedy with the attack on the Pentagon and though we may never know its actual target, the lives that were lost in a heroic effort to detour their hijacked plane which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania the same day. Like many of you reading this, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the day in all began to unfold. I can remember that day in all its stark and vivid detail and I imagine like my parents and their memories of President Kennedy’s assassination, I always will. My purpose in this retelling is to honor the memories of those who were lost that day. I truly believe that it is our collective memory and shared experiences and pain that can help prevent history repeating itself. When we become removed from a traumatic event like this one, and push it into a space of the past, we no longer view it as something that has the potential to happen again. It is a part of history, and might as well be some dusty tome, with weathered parchment and fading ink.
It was a normal day like any other in our house. My husband had gone to work and my older two daughters had gone to elementary school. I was home with my youngest two daughters (barely 2 and 1 years old). Our routine started early and once I had my 2-year-old fed, I sat down to feed my other daughter while I attempted to have coffee and watch GMA. It’s a routine I still have today. As the news and images started filtering in about the World Trade Center, I remember feeling frightened. At first it seemed like some horrible accident and because I have deep connections to New York with most of my family having lived there and family that still live there, I was concerned. When it became clear that this was a purposeful act, dread washed over me in a way that I cannot say I have ever felt before or since. I remember clutching my youngest close and her older sister coming over and asking, “Mama cry?” Her big, beautiful, hazel eyes looking up at me full of concern. I pulled her close and just held them both against me, enveloping myself in their love as I bore witness to this inexplicable thing unfolding, of which we only knew in those moments was the World Trade Center, and instinctively knew that everything had just changed. That day I went and collected our two other children from school, uncertain if there would be any more attacks and I simply wanted them close to me. I wanted to protect them while I still could from all the ugliness in the world.
Our world changed that day. In the blink of an eye we became closer as a nation as we grieved this indescribable loss together. We honored the heroes who ran charging into danger to try and save lives while losing their own. We honored those that made the impossible decision to fight back and protect people who had no name, even though they had loved ones who they would not see again, because they refused to allow terror to win. My remembrance begins and ends with those who were lost, celebrating their unique lives. My remembrance continues with the families who were left behind, praying that despite their loss, they’ve managed to find peace and even a little happiness in the years afterwards. We cannot change the past as much as we’d like to, but I believe that we can change the future and we can make certain that those lives lost, were not in vain. Remembering this day, the lives that were lost and the legacies left behind in each of those that survived will continue the healing without the forgetting.
*Featured image: by Jin S Lee featured in the 9/11 Memorial Museum.