I remember being in awe. It was May of 1991, I was a twelve year old kid, in sixth grade, and we went down to NYC on a school field trip. It was my first time there, and the whole journey was amazing. New York might as well been a vision from another universe to my young eyes. Out of all the amazing sights, though, one of the unforgettable highlights was standing on the observation deck of the World Trade Center. You could just see out into forever... like that horizon would stretch out and never end...
Ten years later, in 2001, I was a full time employee for the first time. I had been working for about three months at an engineering firm in Boston when I heard the news. That symbol of progress, American ingenuity, and teamwork coming together to build towers that touched the sky... they were gone.
Boston emptied out. Trying to get on the MBTA seemed like insanity that morning, so I walked from Downtown Crossing back to my mother's in Everett. It was only five miles, but I was again in awe. A different kind of awe than when I stood on that deck of the WTC, though. I walked past that same elementary school that was the starting point of that sixth grade field trip. No kids were in the yard, or getting on buses. They were all inside, like it was a fortress. There were armed officers guarding the school. Fighter jets were in the sky now, replacing the commercial airliners I was a lot more used to seeing.
There was a numb surreal feeling that lasted a few days. At 22, it was such a dividing line between youth and full adulthood. An adulthood where you could not turn away or be protected from hatred and terror. It was the whole country that was coming out of a protected youth. A fairly young country compared to others, we'd witnessed scenes like this on the news from other countries for decades. Now there was terror and death on our shores. I felt hatred wash over me. I did, I am ashamed now to admit it. It only lasted a few weeks, but I'll never forget what fear and anger did to me. I wanted blood. I wanted annihilation of an entire region of our world. I'd been raised to love everyone, to never consider violence unless in absolute desperate self defense. Yet there I was, in a blind fury, calling for war along with so many others.
I felt shame about that anger for a long time, and I still feel embarrassment when thinking back to it. The war that our nation entered caused the hate to multiply, mutate and metastasize. Yet facing that terrible mistake helped make me a more compassionate person. I know that many of us, no matter how loving, can be taken by surprise. Our guard is down, and before we know it, we are merciless, vicious, calling for war that will never solve anything. I know that some people never recovered from that fear, even if they didn't lose a close friend or relative. They nevertheless lost a feeling of safety, of peace. We all did.
We will never forget that day. Not just the images, or the words from leaders - we won't forget any of it. We will not forget the details of our own lives that day, what we saw in our hometowns and the way the air smelled (even if you were hundreds of miles away and it was fresh, crisp early fall air...). We will never forget the way our view of the world was irrevocably altered.
We will never forget that New York was not the only place attacked. We will never forget the service men and women at the Pentagon that day. We will never forget the heroes that died in a field in Pennsylvania so that even more death and suffering would not happen that day.
And, most of all, we will not forget to love each other. Not today. We do forget from time to time, we can't help it, but will not forget TODAY that for all our differences, this is a national family that will be there for each other when it is really needed.