Sunday, September 11, 2011

“Something terrible has happened.”

September 11, 2001.

“Something terrible has happened.”

This is the first thing my mother said to me on that Tuesday morning 10 years ago. I sat with her on the floor of my parents’ bedroom as we watched the second plane hit and the newscaster announced that this was indeed a terrorist attack.

It was my freshman year of high school. I had a “zero period” class. This means I showed up for a class before the school day started. I did not learn of the towers collapsing until my 4th class of the day. At my school there weren’t TVs in every classroom so we couldn’t watch everywhere, but we talked about what this meant for our country and what it meant for so many families. We did not discuss how these attacks were about to shape our future, our outlook and really change our lives forever. The whole day was eerie. I remember break and lunch. How no one really knew what to do. School had just started, but somehow it wasn’t that exciting to see your friends again. We just stayed with the ones we were closest to and functioned through the day like any other.

Seeing teachers react emotionally was the trigger of discomfort for a lot of us. It made sense to see your parents emotional. We have an emotional attachment to family, friends, neighbors etc. But your teachers played a very specific role. Watching a dear teacher, Ms. Kvitka (who ended up really shaping how I view the world), openly cry in front of our class, made me realize how big of a deal this was. She opened the class up to discussion time and let us ask questions. We watched the news and she showed us that it was okay to be uncomfortable, confused and openly upset. This is the class where I saw the footage of the towers collapsing for the first time. Even seeing that footage now takes my breath away. But in a bad way. Like you have had the wind knocked out of you or something.

The next day we had an assembly. The entire student body of Wilson High School went out to the bleachers. It was a beautiful sunny day. We had a moment of silence and our student council president spoke. When a stadium of close to 2,000 teenagers are willingly quiet…

We had all adorned out new school outfits with yellow ribbons and pins. A gesture that seems so shallow to me now, as I didn’t really know why I was doing it at the time. The reality of how many people lost their lives, how many people lost their loved ones; the chaos of what had really happened did not become a reality until later. Not until I re-watched the footage and saw people jumping out the windows of the towers, heard stories of lost loved ones and saw my mother glued to the TV until she had bruises on her knees.

I recently read an article from USA Today about how disaster and terror has shaped this generation/ the Millennials. It states how our generation is “less interested in working for work's sake -- they're more likely looking for a job they can be passionate about.” This is so true. We came of age in a time of Columbine, 9/11, Katrina, war and economic crisis. We expect and almost anticipate horrors and disaster. It has made us look for what really matters and we feel like we are supposed to help. Unfortunately, I think we have also gotten really good at blocking things out with an almost ‘out of sight, out of mind’ type attitude. Generally, we are attempting to live lives that we care about rather than just going through the motions.

I just wanted to share my 9/11 experience. It is our generations, "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?" moment. So where were you? When did you realize that it would change everything? I don't think I have realized it yet. Maybe it is now. As I am looking back I can see that certainly, everything did change.

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