September 11th: A Nation Remembers

When children are in school, they will inevitably have to write a report on what their family members experienced growing up, and how life was different back then. I know I had to ask my grandma how the Great Depression affected her childhood. I have a feeling that when my hypothetical grandchildren ask me about my experiences and the significant historical events that took place, they will ask me about September 11th.  Though they're not grand or coming from someone of significance, these are my stories.

When the towers came crashing down, I was in fifth grade. I had no idea what the World Trade Center was, and I barely even recognized what New York City was. To me, it was a world away. But that day, as I walked into school and heard the news, I began to comprehended that our country was a lot smaller than I had ever known. People across the country became our neighbors because they were Americans and it happened to us. I remember when my mom picked me up from school that day, I asked her about what was going on, and she explained the best that she could. When I got home, I did something that we Americans do best: I sat in front of the TV, glued to the news stations, and absorbed everything I could. I followed it every day and watched the major headlines. I remember the exact moment when I saw the news said "The tapping under the rubble has stopped". That phrase still brings tears to my eyes. I cried with pain and anger I had never experienced before.

Six weeks after the attacks, my parents and I took a vacation to none other than New York City. Looking back, I realize that my parents were submerging me into history, giving me a tangible piece to hold on to for the rest of my life. I was no longer sitting in front of a screen hearing the news, I was experiencing it. It was easy for me to fall in love with that city; standing under the bright lights of Broadway, dining at world-renowned restaurants, it was effortless. But the memories that stand out the most to me are the ones surrounding the time we spent at the site of the attacks.

Earlier in the day, we took a harbor boat tour of the Manhattan area. We went out to the Statue of Liberty, and on our return trip, the boat suddenly fell silent. In front of us was an unobscured view of what is now known as Ground Zero. The sight was devastating. Ragged pieces of metal stood in the open like wounded soldiers leaning on their guns after the battle. Piles of rubble were still smoking, sending silent tribute to the heavens. The obvious cavity tore a hole in the collective heart of everyone on that boat.

When we returned to the mainland, my parents and I walked into the financial district in Manhattan and headed towards Ground Zero. The perimeter of the site was blocked by metal fencing covered in green cloth, concealing everything behind it. Every few hundred feet or so, there were police officers stationed. They didn't appear to be there as a defense mechanism, but rather as a support system. Officers were crying with strangers, protecting the vigils that went on as far as the eye could see. Pictures of loved ones were tacked to the green cloth, candles burned, and flowers rested wearily. These mementos held the grief of an entire nation on their delicate petals and flames. We walked to a gate in the fence, along a back alley. The crowd was much thinner hear, and the sight much more dramatic. As the gate opened, we were offered a view of the rubble, still stories high. A lone building facade stood in the middle of it, draped in black cloth like a mourning widow. The widow of America.

As we left the sight, we came across a painter writing something on the green cloth on the fence. What we expected to be words of sorrow disgusted me. "Nearest beer to Ground Zero". Someone trying to capitalize on the city's grief. I asked my parents if I could go back and dumb his paint bucket over his head. 

Christmas 2011, my parents handed me a present. I opened it and found a black "We Remember" t-shirt. My mom said that when she was in the gift shop, a New York firefighter or policeman (my memory fails me now) picked up that exact shirt. Though it doesn't fit me anymore, I still have it. 

Six years later, I was a junior in high school. I loved choir, my friends, and boys. Maybe not so much the boys, they had just entered my radar. Choir and friends were definitely my top priorities. I was graced with the opportunity to be a part of the two top choirs in my high school. The larger choir I was involved in was invited to sing at Carnegie Hall in New York City. I couldn't tell you the songs we sang there, or even how many days we were in NYC. What I remember clearly is our trip to Ground Zero. 

Our whole choir walked along the bronze memorial wall that had been erected since I was last in New York. The World Trade Center memorial was still being built at this time, but the progress was night and day. Across the street from the memorial is St. Paul's Chapel. This historic church has been standing since 1766, surviving countless disasters. By some miracle, not even a window in this chapel broke when the towers came crashing down. It served as a refuge for emergency workers after 9/11, providing pews to sleep in, food, and a quiet moment. We had been given the chance to sing in this sacred building.

As we walked in, there was an all-male African American group from Chicago singing a song that had great significance to our choir, "Prayer of the Children" by Kurt Bestor. We were all extremely moved. We had a chance to walk around and see the memorials set up honoring September 11th. It was such a place of reverence, I get chills when I think that our voices, my voice, echoed songs off those walls. My parents made the trip to experience this with us. It was incredible. 

This was definitely the hardest entry I've written to date. I think it is extremely important for all of us to share our experiences, learn from one another, and understand a bit more about the world around us. I'm not looking to be a hero, but if I can be even a fraction of the persons who gave their lives that day, or the ones that took back their hijacked plane and saved how many unknown lives, then I will have succeeded. Photography and the written word can teach, anger, move, and rejuvenate. This is my goal in life. 

Never forget September 11th, 2001.