12. Sep, 2011

10 years ago…

10 years ago…

10 years ago I woke my grandma to the news that a plane had hit one of the twin towers in New York. By the time I had gotten to school the second plane had hit and I knew in that that instant that something was terribly wrong. What followed will forever be etched in my mind, as the terrifying images filled our screens and the tragedy rocked our nation.

I remember the odd silence that filled our classrooms occasionally punctuated with a small whisper. It was as though we thought that speaking at a normal volume required too much air, and we had little to spare from holding our breath for so long. Eyes glued to the television my classmates and I watched in numb silence as one plane after another seemed to fall from the sky, each crash causing a sickening realization that our lives had forever changed. I remember looking into the eyes of the people around me and witnessing the cold terror splashed across them. That was the first time I can remember seeing my teachers crumble around me, their eyes filling with tears as they struggled to not only understand what was happening but to reassure us that we were safe. I remember how my heart was torn to pieces as what I thought was debris turned out to be desperate people jumping from the burning twin towers. The moment the towers fell will be an image that will assault my mind every September 11th, the very mention of the day sending shivers down my spine.

I sat in class trying to absorb everything that was happening around me, trying to sort through the various reports that were coming in and make sense of the chaos. I watched as fellow students were taken home by parents who just wanted to be in same the room as their family, it was the one day that nobody seemed to care that cell phones were on and constantly ringing in class. Low flying fighter jets flew overhead throughout the day, seeing as we only lived 5 minutes from the airport it seemed a constant stream of noise. I remember one jet in particular because it flew so low it enveloped our school with its high pitched screaming engines, rattling the windows as it sped by. It was that moment that someone chose to pull the fire alarm. Our classroom erupted into chaos, the fear sweeping from one end of the room to the other. The question flooding each of our minds was whether planes was going to crash into our school or somewhere close by. There was no walking to the exit nice, calm and orderly like we had practiced so many times before, people were bolting out the door with our teacher desperately yelling for calm behind us. Rational thinking had flown away with that jet plane, nobody stopped to ask why our school would even be a target. To us, there was no rational reason for the previous planes to have been taken down either and who knew where the next one might land.

As I stood out on the lawn and looked at the faces around me, my heart dropped as I realized some of these guys were old enough to enlist and the fact was that they would, their patriotism calling them to stand up and defend our country. This was the first time that war came home to me. Yes my dad was in the army and yes we lived in various countries as he fulfilled his duties but this was different.  I had a sickening feeling that the war that was coming would be long and would claim a lot of lives and as I looked around I realized this would be the death sentence for many of the young men and women I went to school with.

When I finally made it home for the day, I sat with my grandma and asked for her to make sense of it for me.  It was the first time in my life that I remember my grandma being speechless.  She didn’t have an answer and for some reason that got to me more than anything else. Maybe it was because this tough old woman who had been through so much in her life looked lost and confused.  Or maybe it was because deep down I wanted her to tell me that the news was wrong and it was all some sick joke. As I went to bed that night my mind was filled with the images that had played non-stop throughout the day.  It was a fitful night of sleep for me and as I woke the next morning I remember casually thinking it all must have been a dream.  Yet as soon as I picked up the paper I knew that I was only kidding myself, it had happened and because of it America would never be the same.  I felt sorry for my president, George Bush, he not only had to deal with this crisis and assure Americans that we would be okay but he would have to make hard decisions in the coming days that would affect us all.  I did not envy his job and I remember thinking many times throughout the weeks that poor man.

I remember a lot of the tragedy that happened that day with lives lost for no other reason than they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But I will also always remember the heroes of that day, the men and women who selflessly ran into those buildings to save people they had never met. I remember the servicemen who tore through the rubble of the fallen towers without food or water looking for survivors and never once slowing down.  I also remember when they were told it was time to give up and the tears that fell freely with the pain etched across their faces that they couldn’t do more.  Or the volunteers that set up tents with food, blankets and beds.  I remember the candlelight vigils that were set up around the country as people drew together united to pray for the families who lost loved ones and those still missing.  The stories that started to be told on the news spoke of courage, bravery, resolve and a love for people that often goes unnoticed.  I remember how people would stop each other on the streets and ask how they were doing and they really would listen to the answer.

Today I live in New Zealand and 10 years from 9-11 I find myself lost in different memories of that day and of the weeks that followed. As a 15 year old kid, I was forever changed by the tragedy that fell on our nation.  Today I am reminded again how fragile life is and how in an instant it can all be taken away, but I have also learned what it means to hope.  To stand in the heart of uncertainty and hope that something in tomorrow will be different. I have learned that in the midst of unspeakable darkness, light will shine and so I continue to pray for those still affected by that day.