September 11, 2001 started like any other day for me. I was an eighth grader at Lutheran High School of Dallas. I was still giggling about the day before when one of my friends had gotten caught on a wire fence trying to retrieve a Frisbee. I was sure that I was going to be laughing a lot that week.
I remember watching a video on the overhead projector in Mr. McClain’s first period Computer class. We were probably learning something pretty basic, like how to use Microsoft. I don’t think I was paying attention. I was probably doodling. Although, I can’t remember what we were learning or what I was doodling, I remember I was sitting a few rows back on the far left side of the room. Not too far into the video, the classroom door creaked open and Mrs. Destesfano, the high school history and government teacher, poked her head inside.
“Would you mind if we borrowed your television?” She asked. Looking back, I realize she looked a little shaken. At the time, however, I didn’t give her request a second thought and went back to whatever I was doodling.
My second period class was English with Mr. Allmon. He had informed us the day before that he would be absent that day, so when we got to second period and saw that our substitute had yet to arrive, we were pretty psyched. Who wouldn’t be?
I can’t remember how long we sat in the classroom, talking, laughing, doing our little eighth grade thing, maybe ten minutes, before Mr. Krause, our middle school principal marched into the room and signed onto Mr. Allmon’s computer. He looked like he had a lot of things on his mind, and I thought (okay, hoped) that he would just give us that time to do our homework. And by “do our homework,” I mean “talk.”
“Mr. Krause, are you our substitute?” A girl named Stephanie asked. I don’t think he heard her.
“Something’s happened.” He announced. He sounded shaken. “This morning, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York.”
Terrorists. I knew immediately that whatever had happened was serious. Still, it wasn’t a word with which I was familiar. Terrorists were supposed to be the guys who blew stuff up in movies. They weren’t supposed to actually exist.
“You’re joking, right?” One of my peers asked. We were fourteen years old. In our minds, stuff like that just didn’t happen. Still, why would anyone joke about such a thing? The look on Mr. Krause’s face answered the question for him. “Oh my gosh, you’re not joking.”
Suddenly, it was real. Suddenly, the room full of crazy middle schoolers was so silent, you’d have thought it was empty. We all stared at Mr. Krause, waiting for any sort of explanation. I’m sure someone asked, “What happened?” but all I remember is the shock and the wild bombshell of facts that befell us shortly after learning of the attacks on our country.
We listened to the radio as reporters described the horrific scene at Ground Zero.
We listened to reports of airplanes, full of innocent lives, crashing into the World Trade Center.
We listened as hundreds of people jumped to their deaths to escape the flaming towers.
We listened moment by horrifying moment as the Twin Towers fell.
Mr. Krause announced that he would give a few of us passes to the library, to listen to a different station. I took the opportunity.
If there’s one thing I will never forget about that day, it is the walk down the empty hallway toward the library. To those who’ve never experienced a deafening silence, rest assured it is overwhelming. It’s a physical sensation, something you can feel as you walk through it, and it’s heavy. Very heavy.
I remember passing by classrooms full of upperclassmen. Members of the staff and faculty gathered in the dark rooms with the students. The light of a television illuminated all their faces. Again, the deafening silence. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
When I finally made it to the library, reporters were announcing the latest: a plane crash at the Pentagon and another in Pennsylvania. It was too much.
Later on in fourth period, long after the towers had fallen, we watched over and over as an airplane flew directly and deliberately into the South Tower. We watched living, breathing human beings jump out of windows thousands of feet in the air; the last moments of their lives caught on tape. We watched the towers crumbling, smoking, falling again and again and again.
We were children, watching the most horrific moments ever recorded in the history of our nation.
Going outside that day was eerie, not just because we knew what had taken place, but because of the empty stillness in the sky. The airplanes were gone. No glint of glistening silver in the sunlight. No sky bound vessels to capture my mind and make me wonder where exactly they were going. Nothing. It was just as much of a reminder as the images on the television screen.
That night, I sat without complaint (for once) as my family watched the news. New images appeared on the television of a man with a long, dirty beard. They called him Osama Bin Ladin. For the first time, I heard the words “Al-Queda” and “Taliban.” Words, that previously, held no meaning for me.
The final image I saw that evening was of an anchorman. He faced his audience with somber eyes.
“Tonight, America is under attack.”
Fourteen years later, we are a different country. Hatred and ignorance and intolerance seem to lurk around every corner. We’ve forgotten what it means to be united, to love one another, to respect one another even if we have different views.
We are the United States of America, a strong, proud, independent nation. But unless we come together and remember what it means to be united, we too will fall.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” – Abraham Lincoln
“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” – Jesus Christ
God Bless America.
God Bless Every Nation, Every People, Everywhere.