It was in fourth grade, in the middle of music class. The PA system came on, and our principal gave an announcement. All I remember hear was the word “bombing”, and I had never heard so much terror in an adult’s voice. We were lined up against the wall and ushered back to our classrooms. My classmate told me what the World Trade Center was, and I took comfort in the distance between them and my little elementary school: a few thousand miles. Still, everybody was scared. One by one kids were being picked up, and I wondered if my parents would come get me. Eventually my father got me and my little bro. That’s really all I remember about that day.
There’s one more thing I do recall, and that was the answer to my question of why somebody would attack us. Up until then I did not know of any wars we were in or any foreign disputes. All I knew about war was that my grandpa had fought in the Second World War. So why?
“They hate us because we are free.”
I don’t even remember who gave me that answer. My parents, a teacher, my brother? I just remember thinking it was preposterous. Why weren’t they free? Were they so jealous that they wanted to kill us? Why is it our fault that they aren’t free? Then 10 years later we killed the man responsible. I was a freshman in college. I found it heartbreaking that the brokenness of the world was such that we had to have parades for a man’s death, but justice was served that day. I wrote about it in my Tumblr.
I’m not writing this because I think my experience was unique. Everybody has their own story of the moment they found out. I also don’t have some sort of insight into the nature of evil or, I don’t know, anything about this event really. I’m just writing this because a couple weeks ago I went to New York for the first time and visited the 9/11 Memorial. I choked back tears as I read the names of strangers whose lives were cut short. I used my phone to read the stories of victims like Benny Ong, the flight attendant on the first plane who notified American Airlines of the highjacking. She was going to fly from LA to Hawaii to vacation with her sister after she landed. There were also siblings Leonel and Blanca Morocho, immigrants who moved here because they knew how great this country was, and they made honest livings so that they could bring the rest of their family over.
I know that none of the people whose names are on that memorial can read this, but I just felt the need to say that we remember. Everybody remembers, and even though this is an unimaginable tragedy, I hope that somehow the people of America are changed for the better because they remember. God bless those who suffered loss on that day, and may we all strive to make the world feel the opposite of how it did 17 years ago. That’s all.
“In recent years we as a people have been tribalized and factionalized by a thousand casual unkindnesses. But in this we are one. Flags sprout in uncommon places, the ground made fertile by tears and shared resolve. We have become one in our grief. We are now one in our determination. One as we recover. One as we rebuild.”
The Amazing Spider-Man #36 (December 2001)