Last July I visited New York City with my German host sister and my real sister. We decided to visit the nearly completed 9/11 Memorial, built where the World Trade Center once stood. The memorial wasn’t quite open to the public yet– to get in, we had to line up at the 9/11 Visitor’s Center and get tickets.
The memorial featured two gigantic waterfalls and reflecting pools in the two exact spots where the Twin Towers were. Around each pool, the nearly 3,000 names of the deceased were carved in bronze. The pools were surrounded by trees, stone walkways, and newly planted grass. All around the plaza, we were dwarfed by the construction of the new World Trade Center.
Visitors were cheerfully walking around, chatting, and smiling for photos. It was a warm July day, after all, and sunny, and we were lucky enough to have gotten into the memorial before its official coronation. The place was packed with people.
The September 11th attacks happened over a decade ago, in 2001. I had only just turned eight. That September, I was just starting the third grade. My teacher that year (Mrs. Casey) had a little morning activity called “Casey’s News.” Each day, she would assign one kid to look up the weather and another to look up current events. The next morning, these two kids would come into class, stand inside this big cardboard box painted to look like a TV, and present what they had found. It was a fun little tradition she had been doing for years in the hopes of getting kids to pay attention to the news.
On the morning of September 11th, I was assigned to get the current event.
My school, unlike most schools in my area, didn’t close that day. My sister tells me that many kids were picked up by their parents, though. I simply remember taking the bus, walking home, and checking the internet to see what was up and happening in the world.
Naturally, you can imagine what I found.
In all of the horrifying images and videos, however, I just didn’t understand what had happened. I don’t know why. I was only eight. My vocabulary was limited. I had watched war movies before. I just didn’t quite get the news articles I was finding. I recall asking my mom, that day,
I don’t remember her face when she answered.
Although I didn’t fully understand the scope of 9/11, I knew that it was big. I therefore proudly presented my newsflash the next day.
The horrors of 9/11, then not fully understood by my eight-year-old self, quickly vanished under bigger concerns like “How do I write cursive?” and “I don’t want to eat this gross school pizza!” It’s been 11 years since then. I admit that I don’t think of 9/11 often, or at great length. I’ve seen the photos, read first-hand accounts and cartoon recollections, and I know how terrible that day was. But I never truly understood, or perhaps, been able to begin to imagine the horrors of that day until I visited the memorial. Seeing those massive, black holes where the Twin Towers stood put into perspective the scale of the disaster, and the terror and suffering that went on that morning.
So I’m writing this post as my own remembrance. For those who went to work that day, only to find their office in flames. For the people who ran into the building, searching for loved ones. For the rescuers who risked– and lost– their lives for those they had never met. For the survivors who still feel the effects of the attacks today.
I know I wasn’t there. I know I’ll never fully understand what happened that day. I’ll never quite comprehend the fear, the bravery, the tragedy, the despondency. But I can remember.
And I hope that you, dear reader, can take a moment to remember it too.
So I ask: where were you on September 11, 2001? Feel free to let me know in the comments below.