When I was young, I remember my great-grandmother telling me stories of how she would always remember where she was and what she was doing when it was announced that Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor and President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and how--one day--I, too, would live through such unforgettable experiences.
Admittedly, my thirteen-year-old self was never quite convinced that I would live through such life-changing moments; as far as I was concerned, nothing of such impact had happened yet, so it was likely never to happen. On September 11, 2001, I stood corrected.
It was an ordinary Tuesday in New York when I woke up that morning to take the bus to school. I wore the same uniform, read from the same textbooks and conversed with the same people that I had since classes had commenced earlier that month. The monotony, however, came to a halt as I sat down at my desk that day.
Fidgeting with my tie, I could not help but notice that something was different. The History instructor was late, so I--along with most other students in the room--was hoping that she had called in sick and that we would be dismissed from class. Our hope of leaving class early would be fulfilled, but under the least desirable of circumstances.
The instructor stiffly walked into the classroom and dragged a television atop a metal cart behind her. She turned to face the class, revealing a pair of puffy, red eyes and said, “Something terrible has happened. Something very terrible has happened.” I sat erect in my seat and glanced around the room, only to find my fellow classmates in a similar state of alertness. The instructor turned the television on and my mouth dropped. A feeling of helplessness rushed through my body as I thought, “What a horrible accident,” and watched in terror as smoked pumped from one of the Twin Towers.
It was not long before an official announcement was made over the loudspeaker declaring that the remainder of classes was cancelled and that we were dismissed for the day. I instantly reached for my cell phone and called my great-grandmother to tell her that I was on my way home. I arrived home nearly half an hour later to find my family glued to the television screen. I asked, “Did you see it? The accident on television?” and--before anyone could part their lips--we all watched, together, as a plane crashed through the second of Twin Towers.
“This is no accident,” my great-grandmother said, “we are being attacked.” I looked around the room to see my family’s response to what had just happened and, at that time, the saying “actions speak louder than words” could not have been more true. Everyone stood there with mouths dropped; speechless and dumbfounded.
Now, 22 years old, my mouth drops the same way it did ten years ago when I reflect on that day. Although the tragedy replays so vividly in my mind, the tragedy, however, is not what defines September 11th for me. Instead, it is the good that came from it.
I learned how fragile life is; we each have but only one life to live on earth, and I think the entire world learned the importance of that lesson, too. After the events of September 11th, I know that I have been careful to forgive more, love more, and give more because one cloudy--seemingly monotonous--day demonstrated to me that every comfort that a person is so familiar with can be stripped away without warning.
September 11th did not teach me to live in fear. Instead, it taught me to live with hopes for a better tomorrow, where we can learn to love and appreciate each other more without the occurrence of tragedy. Only then will we be making true progress.
I do not know if and when we will live in such a world of progress, but one thing is for certain: I am always going to remember where I was and what I was doing when the Twin Towers stood for the last time on September 11th.
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