It was a beautiful early fall Tuesday morning. The sky was as clear blue here as it was in New York. I remember as I got ready for work, seeing on the news that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center in New York City. Comments were made that perhaps the pilot had suffered a heart attack and lost control--it was thought to be a small private plane at first. I remember the look of shock on the announcer's face when the second one hit, and that he simply and quietly said: "That was no accident."
I remember wondering who would do such a thing, purposely fly a commercial jet full of passengers into a skyscraper?
I remember going to my job at an elementary school; TVs and radios were on, the news was lit up with all kinds of details, many of which were not true: The White House was bombed, the Pentagon was destroyed, there were warplanes swarming the East Coast. But then we learned that the Pentagon was, in fact, hit by yet another plane.
A National Guard pilot flies over the Pentagon after it was hit
Another one went down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after being hijacked. We learned later that there were heroes on board, passengers who decided to rush the hijackers and let the plane crash in a field instead of anywhere else-with the words "Let's Roll" as their battle cry.
All airports were shut down, all flights came to a halt. No one moved by plane: nobody left the U.S., Nobody entered from another country. Concern rose as we wondered about the extent of this plot, this nonsense that jarred a beautiful fall day's innocence.
We became stuck, riveted to the television, wanting information and then being so stunned by what we saw that we couldn't think what to say. Brows furrowed as we tried in vain to make sense of it. But that was impossible, as it still is today.
We wondered if we should stay where we were, or go home: If I'm going to die, I want to be home and not here. Do I get my kids out of school so we can be together? Is there anything I can do?
Our governor decreed that students should not go outside for recess that day and for a few days to come. Would these people, whoever they were, target lesser-populated cities as a surprise? How could we know?
We saw the towers collapse on themselves, the dust, the papers flying everywhere....heard that gut-wrenching, incredibly loud, permanent thud sound we found out later was bodies hitting the ground after having fallen or jumped from dozens of stories above.
I remember the next day heading out to the store and noticing people were very quiet, and much more patient and polite than usual. It was as if we were all grieving a relative that was violently killed the day before, and we felt so very sad together. As if we were in slow motion and it wasn't stopping. As if we were all planning a funeral.
The endless flyers hastily printed up and posted on fences in the area of the Twin Towers: Have you seen my husband/wife/fiancé/boyfriend/girlfriend/mother/father/sister/brother/aunt/uncle/cousin/friend? Here's a picture. Please have them call home right away. But knowing as well as the person who posted it, that their loved one was lost forever.
And later came: Why? Who would do this? How did they do this? How many more were out there? Did some of them live here? Why weren't they stopped? Could it happen again?
We were arrogant to think no one would dare attack us on home soil. We were smug. We thought it would never happen here in a million years. We were so wrong.
And we were angry. The term "waking a sleeping dragon" was tossed about, and appropriately so. We wanted some justice. How would we do it?
We're still not sure we've achieved it. We constructed a 'War On Terrorism' in an effort to avenge those 2,977 deaths. Whether it's accomplished anything will always be up for debate. But, how might we change our mindsets to be more aware, to be less encapsulated in our no longer safe little world?
We have to recognize that any group promoting hatred and violence has nothing to do with true religion. We have to remember those who claim their 'reasoning' are extremists, that most other people in the world do not espouse violence and killing but want to live in peace.
Consider this pledge against hatred, which sadly can come in so many forms. We have to do better. Our survival depends on it.
- I pledge from this day onward to do my best to interrupt prejudice and to stop those who, because of hate, would hurt, harass, or violate the civil rights of anyone.
- I will try at all times to be aware of my own biases against people who are different from myself.
- I will ask questions about cultures, religions, and races that I don't understand.
- I will speak out against anyone who mocks, seeks to intimidate, or actually hurts someone of a different race, religion, ethnic group, or sexual orientation.
- I will reach out to support those who are targets of harassment.
- I will think about specific ways my school, other students, and my community can promote respect for people and create a prejudice-free zone.
- I firmly believe that one person can make a difference and that no person can be an "innocent bystander" when it comes to opposing hate.
- Please don't let the words "We Will Never Forget" become a meaningless catchphrase. Do something that makes a difference, no matter how small. Be kind.
Be kind to one another.
Time-lapsed video of the construction of the 9-11 memorial:
and of the 9-11 museum: