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They say that September 11th is our generation’s “moment,” like the kind of moment our parents had when JFK got assassinated or our grandparents experienced during “Pearl Harbor.” In psychology it’s called a flash memory, because it’s a lot like looking at a photograph. You remember everything you were doing, everything in the room, everything about that moment,.
I was walking into Mrs. Horlings’ English class that morning in 2001 during my sophomore year. When I got there, the previous hour’s class hadn’t moved, they were all sitting there, staring at a smoking building on TV. As the bell rang, slowly they all filed out, and we replaced them focused intently at the screen.
Mrs. Horlings said that there was some sort of accident, that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. We wondered how that kind of thing would happen, did the pilot lose control high over the city and it was just bad luck?
Then the second plane hit. Everything changed. People started freaking out, trying to call their parents, but the lines were so jammed no one got through. Orders came through the loudspeakers that no one was to leave the school, and everyone immediately began looking out in the sky, eyeing any passing plane with suspicion.
We didn’t quite realize the significance of it all at the moment, some kids were joking that Saddam Hussein was about to pop up on the screen, hijacking our airwaves to announce that the reign of America had come to an end. We were only 14, we didn’t really know how to react.
Then planes hit the Pentagon and crashed in Pennsylvania. The entire day was like a dream, we all thought the world was ending, that America had finally run its course. How many thousands died before our eyes as we watched those towers fall on live TV? Even the anchors were speechless. I went to a Christian prep school, so we all gathered in the gym to pray for the victims and our country. I don’t remember it exactly, but it went something like this:
“Lord, in this dark hour, please help our country. Help the victims in New York and Washington who are still alive waiting for rescue, help the police and firemen get to them safely, help our leaders know what to do in this uncertain time, and help the families of the victims cope with the losses they have suffered.”
Seven years later, and the world did not end. It certainly changed, and a post 9/11 world has been more dangerous than ever, but we’re all still here, America is still strong. It’s easy to forget about the victims of that day, as we go about living our lives, but today we all remember them. I must admit even I hadn’t really cast much thought towards the event in the years following the tragedy. Yes, it had happened, but that was over now. It was time to move on. I hadn't lost anyone so it was easy to forget.
But now I sit in the OTR offices on Broadway, literally a block away from a giant, intimidating hole in the ground. As I walked to work today, there were more cops than cabs on the streets, as the two presidential candidates are stopping by to pay tribute. It is much more real to me because I pass that site every day. I remember the victims more now, as the hole is a constant reminder of what happened.
Though the void has now been there for seven years, I look forward to watching the Freedom Tower be constructed over the next few years. Maybe then I’ll not only remember what happened in the past, but I’ll be able to see a better future as well.