I had PE during 1st period my freshman year of high school. I remember changing in the locker room, grabbing my bookbag, and making my way back into the gym with my friends to head towards 2nd period English. As we headed out, there was a group of girls that passed us and I heard them say, “It was some accident with a small plane…” I didn’t think anything of it at the moment and never would have remembered those words had it not been for what happened next. I walked into my English class and the teacher had the TV turned on to CNN. In the time I had walked from the gym to my English class, a plane had hit the second tower. Everyone walking into class was confronted with the image of billowing smoke coming from these two towers. We never pulled out our books, we never even thought about English, we just sat and watched.
I honestly don’t remember much of the events over the next few days. I remember feeling genuinely afraid of what might happen…the fear of what else could be done to America, the fear of what we might do in return, the fear of how this would affect everyone, and more than anything the fear of how it concerned our military. My brother was serving in the National Guard at the time and would later go on to fight in Afghanistan. I just remember there being confusion and fear from everyone.
A year later, there were, of course, several memorial services. Schools, churches, community organizations, news specials…everyone wanted to commemorate what had happened and make sure that we would never forget. I attended several of those services and was inspired by many of them but honestly, I couldn’t tell you a single thing about any of them now 12 years later, only that they happened.
Another year passed and with that came more memorial services, fewer in number but every bit as patriotic as the year before. Again I attended several but couldn’t tell you one detail about any of them. What I can tell you is what my AP U.S. History teacher Mrs. Smitherman said on that day. She spoke to our class on the exact importance of why we must never forget. She spoke of the hope that can come out of our fear…out of our pain. She spoke about using that hope as motivation to not just be a participant but an active creator of a brighter future…how we as the next generation can learn from the unfortunate events of the past to shape a better world for the generation after us.
I’m inspired by the fact that 13 years later people still talk about that day in 2001. They share posts with one another, talk about where they were, thank active and former members of the armed forces, and spend some time remembering those who died that day. And while it is so very important that we do all of these things to commemorate that day, it’s equally important that we spend some time thinking about hope. More than anything, a hope that we can put aside our differences and work together for a brighter and better future so that our children, our nieces and nephews, our grandkids will never have to experience something like this.
I had never visited New York before the twin towers fell so I never got to see them in person but on a recent trip to New York, I had the opportunity to see One World Trade Center. I had been to New York several times in between the time the twin towers fell and 1WTC’s recent completion so I had become accustomed to the typical skyline. This new building towered over everything else. I was reminded of the fear I felt that day and in the days after but I was also reminded of what Mrs. Smitherman told us. To me, this building stands as a beacon of hope…a symbol of what can be born out of tragedy and fear. I will never forget what happened and I will continue to hope for unity committed to a brighter and better future for us all.