20 years later and the emotions and visuals of what happened that day, and the days following still feel so vivid in my memory and my body. I was 13 years-old, and thankfully my family members in New York were safe, but I cried for days as if I was mourning my own flesh and blood every time we watched the news and I saw the pictures the kids drew of what they witnessed, and the walls of thousands of missing faces.
Just yesterday, I was reminded how close to danger some of my family members really were. So, I thought I'd take a few moments to reflect on that day and it's impact...
That morning, right as the first or second plane went into the tower, I remember being in our little workout room with the TV on. I don't remember what I was doing, but I only got a glimpse of what happened before I was rushed to school. I heard "twin towers," and I thought something happened in Malaysia.
It was my first day of eighth-grade, and I was taking a couple of high school classes, so I had to go early for orientation. We gathered in the library, and I remember the librarians watching the TVs, which seemed odd. This was back when we used to have a big honking TV strapped to a cart so it could be wheeled around from classroom to classroom. The librarians seemed to be watching in shock, and I thought it was strange that they seemed to purposefully have the TVs turned away from us, not just because they didn't want to distract us, but because something was clearly up.
All day I was pretty clueless as to what happened, until the final period when my teacher turned to the class and said, "I assume some of you know what has happened today..." I believe teachers were instructed not to tell us, for fear of causing panic in case any of us had relatives there or on flights, and just to shield us from it for the time being. So, it wasn't until the end of the day, that I learned that there was a horrible terrorist attack on our country. For the following days, we were glued to the images that all of us are now all too familiar with.
As I think about the past few years, and how things have changed, or haven't changed, since 9/11 part of me feels glum--especially when we think about just the last 18 months of this pandemic. After 9/11, the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate rose frighteningly. I remember years later, one of my friends who is of Lebanese descent shared with me that her mom told them to never tell people they're Lebanese. Their last name was not obviously Lebanese to most other people, so her mom told her and her siblings to just say they're Italian. She was scared of her kids being attacked. But things haven't changed so much as we've really seen racism rear its ugly head even more so than usual over the last few years. That being said, I read an article today from a Muslim American mother who said that while some things haven't changed, there's still great hope and more opportunity for Muslim Americans and other people of color, especially as representation of different communities in film, TV, and media grows.
As I was talking to my aunt and she was telling me about their experience being in New York that day in 2001, in the middle of their college visits for my cousin, I was reminded of the incredible humanity that our country is always able to display in times of great crisis and tragedy. As my aunt puts it, "Americans have always been able to pull it together," and with compassion. I've always believed us to be one of the most compassionate countries and I hope we never lose that. Although, lately it seems like we've forgotten that.
So, I hope on this 20th anniversary of 9/11, a day that changed the world, we remember our compassion. Small gestures like the rental car company my relatives used during their college visits only charging them up until 9/11, but not for anything after. The many, many people who helped out on that day and the days following, like the firefighters and police officers, but also regular civilians. The teachers and educators who got it together to be there for the kids and students as they all tried to process what was happening. There were so many acts of kindness and compassion. Through immense loss and shock, there was love.
That's the legacy we need to remember and carry on. We need to remember that as Americans, we pull together to help our neighbors. As we all know, freedom isn't free. No matter how "free" we are or think we are, each of our actions has consequences. We are free to choose hate and to be assholes, but we are also free to choose to be caring, compassionate people. Hopefully, we choose the latter.