Where were you the day the world changed? Where were you on September 11, 2001?
I was eleven years old, and a sixth-grade student at the Nathan Hale-Ray Middle School in East Haddam, Connecticut. I was 118 miles from Ground Zero in New York City, and it was a Tuesday.
While my older siblings in the high school watched the news that day after the planes hit, they didn’t tell us anything in the middle school. For all we knew, it was a perfectly normal day. Although, thinking back, I can almost remember an eerie feeling among the teachers; like they knew something scary but wanted to pretend like it was fine. It wasn’t; but I understand why they didn’t say anything.
At lunch a friend of mine was sitting at a table telling us the President had been shot. She came late to school that day, so she saw the first news reports. I learned later that those first news reports did say the President had been shot because no one knew, yet, what was going on.
I said that couldn’t be possible, as I recalled a teacher telling us one day about where she was when President Kennedy had been shot: she was in school when they made the announcement over the loud speaker. We had been reading about the assassination in our history books and she was reminding us that she lived through it. Little did I know that that day, the same thing was happening to me.
I said to my friend that the President couldn’t have been shot because they would tell us. Maybe someone else was shot, or some kind of accident happened, but everyone must be safe or else they would say something.
The last period of that day was Library. After browsing the books and our assigned time for reading, we were allowed to go on the computer. Right away we went on the news sites to see what was going on – I thought I was going to prove my friend wrong.
The first image I saw was of dust and ash-covered people running from the billowing clouds as one of the towers collapsed. The caption said, “New York City,” but that was no New York I had ever seen. I thought it was taken in the Middle East, like Turkey or Iraq, or maybe Africa, like Egypt or Nigeria. I couldn’t believe this was happening just a couple of hours from me. It was unbelievable. We read and read and read, but mostly were just in shock. Someone, explain this to me!
After Library we were told to return to homerooms for an announcement. They had us sit down and said that something had happened, and that we didn’t have any homework that night, we just had to go home and talk to our parents.
I came home and my mom and sisters were already watching the news. My mom explained what happened and I remember her crying and I remember trying to figure out why it happened. At that point, all they knew was that it was terrorism. “What’s terrorism?” I asked. I don’t remember the answer, but over the next 13 years I have come to find out.
I remember watching the news every morning and afternoon for the rest of the week. It was always the news. I was so relieved for a taste of normalcy when they finally occasionally switched to regular shows over a week later.
We sat on the floor in my parents’ room one night as President Bush gave a speech. He asked kids from around the country to send one dollar in an envelope to the White House for the families of victims. He explained that the terrorists came from the Middle East, and they were Radical Muslims. When we studied the history of Islam and the Middle East the following year in school, they were all terrorists as far as I was concerned. Things have changed since then.
A couple of weeks later they announced that the Connecticut Mastery Tests, our state standardized tests, would be postponed at least a month because of September 11. There are so many people who live in Connecticut and commute to New York City, that they were concerned that students who lost parents would not be able to concentrate on the test.
A man from our church told us about some co-workers he lost on September 11. My mom’s cousin said he happened to sleep in that day, so he wasn’t within blocks of Ground Zero. Story after story of loss, miraculous safety, and heroism – for months.
Thirteen years on and the world is a different place. It’s not just the laws they’ve passed, the rules at airports, the wars we’ve been in, and the lives we’ve lost – it’s the whole mentality: the violation, the invasion, the shock. No one thought anything like this was possible: four planes being hijacked in one day, and thousands of people killed? No one could have imagined it.
I’m watching The West Wing right now, and figuring out what the White House could have been like Pre-9/11. It was a different place. They could afford to be cavalier back then about potential threats, because all the wars were happening in Asia, Russia, the South Pacific, and South America, not in New York City, D.C., and Pennsylvania. America was safe, and aside from the occasional domestic terrorist shooter, or car bomb (this was post-Oklahoma City Bombing), most people were free to go about their days perfectly free from threat of harm.
My husband was in Holland on Sept. 11, 2001. He said he saw the news that day and his mom was crying, and people in Europe definitely talked a lot about the attacks. As an American living abroad, he was scared for what could happen to his family back home. The attacks were felt around the world, and people everywhere remember where they were on September 11, 2001.
We were here, in Connecticut. We were here, in the United States: the country under attack.
Today we remember the heroes, that day and ever since. We remember the firefighters and EMTs and police officers who risked and lost their lives that day. We remember the many people who joined those noble professions because of that day. We remember our friends and family members who joined the military because of that day, some of them giving the last full measure of devotion to the cause. Today, we thank you, and we honor you. It may have been 13 years, but that passing of time does not at all diminish the gratitude and debt owed to you. Thank you.