I never really thought that I would witness something globally historical in my lifetime. Granted, I suppose it’s not really something that’s in your thoughts at age 17, either. In 1940s Hawaii, none of the teenagers there probably ever thought they could be a target for attack. (Who would attack Hawaii? It’s beautiful there.) Similarly, even if the teenagers in Japan suspected they could be bombed, I’m sure they never could have imagined the fallout of a nuclear bomb. Whether because of our ignorance or our pride, we never think it could happen to us. Of course, that changed for every American on Sept. 11, 2001.
I was 17 and had just started my senior year of high school. We had an English test during first period, so we were all busy with that. It was one of those, “when you’re done you can leave” scenarios, so it wasn’t like we all changed periods at the same time. By the time I finished the test, there were already several of my 2nd period classmates waiting in our Social Studies class. The coach was in there, too. But the TV was on, which was odd. At least in my school, the TV was pretty much never on unless it was for an “educational movie.” As I was settling in, the coach explained to those of us who had just come in, “A plane flew into one of the the Twin Towers in New York.” I had never traveled anywhere interesting, so I’d never heard of the Twin Towers. The only specific building I knew of in New York was the Empire State Building. But as I saw the cameras panning over the damage, I somehow knew that after this, things would never be the same again. The Revelation passage about there being “wars and rumors of wars” at the end were replaying over and over again in my mind. And, of course, then the second plane hit. I had a uneasy, sinking feeling in my gut. As the rest of the first period students were joining us, the coach was explaining what happened over and over for each new person. We didn’t have class. There was none of the usual shallow chatter. We all just stared at the TV, horrified by what we were seeing.
That was how the rest of the day went. Literally in every period, in every class for the rest of the day, the TVs were on and were tuned to news stations. We just went from room to room, from TV to TV. I remember going home that day in disbelief. It just didn’t seem real, even though I had been watching it all day.
A day or two later, I suppose our principal realized that because this was a big deal, the younger students needed to be assured somehow. So he arranged a special meeting in our school gym where he asked the entire senior class to lead the school in the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem. It was an odd moment. Being short, I was put up front and I couldn’t really see what was going on behind me, but I didn’t hear any of my classmates making snarky comments. Not even the guys that were known for that. It was a time to put on a face of leadership, even if we were only 17. I remember the student body president mounting a large US flag on a pole in the bed of his truck shortly after that; he kept it there all year.
Now this isn’t to say that we instantly became campus leaders and disregarded teenage ways. Things did go back to normal in the weeks and months after; kids goofed off and did stupid things. But the way that year started was a sort of milestone for us. Even when we goofed off, we still remembered. 9/11 was still an undeniable part of us.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since that happened. But for my part, I am grateful to the men and women who rose to the occasion, and my heart goes out once again to the families of those who were lost.
I will not forget.