Gosh, it seems like yesterday.
I had just begun my sophomore year at Padua Franciscan High School in Cleveland and was sitting in the dingy, cold cafeteria for study hall when the lunch ladies came running out of the school kitchen. In shock, everyone stared at the TVs that lined the room, which showed Peter Jennings reporting that America was under attack. As I type this, my eyes well up at the memory. My grandfather, who was an American hero from World War II and the most patriotic person I’ve ever known, had died the June before, and would have been beyond devastated at what was happening to our country. I thought of him, and, even though I missed him terribly, was happy to know that he wasn’t there to experience the devastation firsthand.
Even though I was literally watching death and evil culminate before my very eyes, I remember not understanding the extent of what was happening. I was young, and I suppose it wasn’t until I moved to D.C. (and visited NYC frequently) and met people who were directly affected by 9/11 that I really started to get a grasp on and put faces to what had happened. A dear friend’s father had retired from FDNY less than a year before 9/11. He knew almost all of the first responders who were killed. I heard firsthand stories about people running out of the Financial District, or watching smoke fill the sky from uptown Manhattan. I have heard about the gridlocked traffic that happened here in D.C. when people thought the everyone in the city was going to die.
But we rose again. We triumphed, because that’s what Americans do. We cried, we mourned, we got angry… and we went back to work, maintaining our role as the best country on this planet.
I visited Ground Zero shortly after the memorial and museum opened. It was beyond moving to see the names of the victims etched in stone, pray for them by name, and listen to the peaceful yet fierce water rushing through the foundations of the Twin Towers.
It’s weird to know that my students were babies when this was all happening. I hope their mamas held them close when they heard Peter Jennings’ report. When I talk about this in class today, I might tear up.. And I’m OK with that. We’ll pray for our country, that we may be unified again, and that terrorism comes to an end.
I can’t believe it’s been sixteen years. May we never, ever forget.