9/11/01: A Moment of Reflection 11 Years Later

My memories of 9/11 are just as vivid today as they were 11 years ago. Wow, 11 years—some days it really does seem as if it were yesterday. I was a junior in high school and it was the first week of class. I had the same feelings of newness that I have every September. I was ready for a fresh start and a new school year. Nothing in my life could have prepared me for what I witnessed on 9/11…

As my first class began, I felt the building shake. No one knew what was going on. My teacher turned on the radio and I recall a woman talking about smoke coming from a building. Immediately, my teacher was told that he should turn off the radio. He did, but students and teachers from the adjacent classrooms quickly filled the silence of the radio. From what I could pick up, people were debating on whether or not we should evacuate. Finally, a police officer came into our classroom and told us that we would be evacuating. He also made it very clear that we should not look back once we exited the building. I made my way out of the building with several other students, and of course I looked back (and up). The towers were on fire—there was paper coming from the sky and other things…things that I wish I could erase, things that would replay in my mind as I slept, things that nightmares aspire to be.

I attempted to call my mother to let her know that I was OK. The phones were down. I had to reach her. We got into a big argument the night before. She told me she loved me when I left that morning. I said nothing, I was mad at her. I was finally able to reach her. I told her that I was fine and that I loved her—that was before the towers fell and a massive amount of smoke was headed my way. My friends and I knew that there was no escape from this smoke and it engulfed us. Our skin felt like it was burning. I thought I was going to die…I didn’t. Physically, I was going to be OK, but after walking over 100 blocks I knew that a part of who I was, my entire worldview had changed. It was left in lower Manhattan and I would never be the same.

There were many things that I took for granted on my train ride down to lower Manhattan on 9/11/01 that I was forced to confront on my long walk back home that afternoon. The biggest thing is that tomorrow is not promised. Yes, this may seem a bit trite, but 11 years later it still holds true. You don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow or even an hour from now so why not make amends with that family member or friend? I also learned the importance of grabbing life by the horns and living it to the fullest. In other words: carpe diem, yolo, etc. After 9/11, I was offered an opportunity to go to Germany. It was amazing and really opened my eyes to the beauty of experiencing other cultures. These experiences have shaped who I am. Tragedy taught me these life lessons and I try to embody them when I can. I hope that reflecting on my experience and sharing it with you allows you to push through some grudge, take a risk, or seize an opportunity.

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