“And standing here in the heartland of America, we say in one voice: We will not give in to terrorists; We will not rest until they are found and defeated; We will win this struggle; not for glory, nor wealth, nor power, but for justice, for freedom, and for peace; so help us God.”
-Sen. Tom Harkin
For my great-grandparents’ generation the question might have been: “Where were you when the markets crashed and the banks dried up?”
For my grandparents’ generation the question might have been: “Where were you when you heard that Pearl Harbor was attacked?”
For my parents’ generation the question might have been: “Where were you when man walked on the moon?”
For my generation the question is: “Where were you when the planes hit?”
A question that encompasses a generation. That pivotal moment you will never forget regardless of the years that pass. Today marks the 12th Anniversary.
I was a freshman in high school. Only a few weeks in and I was already overwhelmed. That morning my parents allowed me to take a “sick day” – or as my mom called it – a “mental health day.” A day I could just sit around and relax, watch some television, accept the changes in life and go forward with a better grasp on it.
Everyone left for their respected schools or jobs. The house of seven was now completely quiet. Even the dogs were snoozing silently. I grabbed the television remote. Perching on the coffee table between the couch and the television, I flipped through the channels. Having only basic cable, the flipping went rather quickly. I do not remember exactly what show I landed on, probably a morning talk show.
As I sat there on that solid coffee table that held the scars of five children and countless dogs as well as remnants of the nail polish, paint and glitter, the happy and chatty talk show took a turn. A special report cut in with a flustered anchor. The picture quickly switched to the World Trade Center’s North Tower with smoke billowing around the top.
At the time, the anchor and correspondents were unsure the exact reason why the plane hit the Tower. Perhaps it was just an accident they theorized. I continued to watch the smoke as the anchors became background noise. Shortly after, I still sat there on the edge of the coffee table transfixed as a movement on the left of the screen caught my eye. “That is one big bird,” I remember thinking. That big bird then crashed into the South Tower. The ‘bird’ was United Airlines Flight 175. The Tower exploded as debris fell all around.
It was then the anchors said the word “terrorists.” I did not know the first thing about these so called “terrorists” or even terrorism in general. As a 15-year-old I had other things on my mind like high school, friends and the latest gossip. Terrorism is something that does not apply to me. Heck, I am from the rural Midwest for goodness sake. I could not imagine someone who had never met me to feel such hatred for me or my fellow countrymen and to act to such extent on that hatred.
That day taught me a lot – not just about terrorism. It taught me how unexpectedly life could be taken away. Perhaps I am not as invincible as I believed. In those couple of hours, as planes continued to crash, I grew up. We were all changed that day, some in the most horrible way as they had a loved one ripped from them.
September 11, 2001 taught me that in the middle of terrorists and hatred, heroes still prevailed. Heroes in the form of firefighters who rushed into the burning buildings knowing it could crumble around them. Police and emergency crews braving the smoke and ash to clear people away. Pastors, priests, rabbis and other men of the cloth who rushed to the scene offering religious relief. Everyday people on the streets who helped the wounded and their fellow neighbor. And finally, the people all around the country who linked arms in support and love.
Most of all that day taught me to remember those lost, to honor those fighting and to never forget those you love.