I had just finished my first class of the day, gym. Nothing like starting your school day drenched in sweat. The other girls and I were changing in the locker room, discussing the important things in life — the stress of our school projects, our lack of sleep, the drama of the latest breakup, and the most recent episodes of our favorite television shows. Our chatter was broken by the shaken speech of one of our gym teachers, her normally firm voice almost unrecognizable.
“We recently received word that the World Trade Center in New York has been hit by 2 planes. They believe it was intentional. We will continue with our school day as usual and will keep you posted.”
Screech...Wait, what? How are not only one, but two planes flown into one of the world’s most famous buildings? What was going on? The bell sounded and we proceeded to our next classes, struggling to comprehend the harsh reality of what was happening. Almost every classroom was tuned to the news. There it was, the scene that would be replayed not only throughout the day but throughout the coming years. The Twin Towers stood, smoke pouring out of their once strong structures. People were crying. There was blood. Stretchers were being wheeled with the injured. The confusion was overwhelming.
With these images being etched into my mind, my body began to react. My heart raced as my muscles tightened. My hands shook and my face warmed as my eyes welled with tears. I was witnessing people struggle for their lives. I was hearing the haunting cries of people who had just lost loved ones.
More breaking news, the Pentagon had been hit and at least one other plane may have been hijacked. Airports were shut down across the country and flights in progress were being grounded.
With parents frantically removing their kids from school and rumors of St. Louis being a possible target, my school was dismissed early. My mom called me on my way home. Her school decided to proceed with their originally scheduled school day for the children whose parents were unable to leave work. She told me she loved me and asked me not to spend the whole time watching the news.
After a long awkward bus ride, I arrived home. The empty house felt more quite than usual. I turned on the television for the latest. A fourth plane had crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, the passengers were being hailed as heroes. They had contacted friends and family during their flights and learned of the hijackings and attacks on the World Trade Center. With realization setting in, those that were able told their loved ones that they loved them before proceeding to retake the plane. This resulted in the hijackers deliberately crashing it into a field, killing everyone onboard. These heroes prevented the hijackers from reaching their destination.
More tears, pain, and blood — I turned the TV off and sat. The still silence of the house unbearable. While I was aware of the horrors that haunt human history, this was my first time experiencing something to this degree. I felt sick with the realization of how ugly and hateful some people can be. There were fathers, mothers, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends in those buildings and on those planes. In a matter of minutes, their lives were turned upside down or met a tragic end. How could this degree of coldness exist?
Over the next few weeks, the news was filled with stories of the aftermath. Accusations, claims, and talks of war were all prime topics. But among these disheartening stories also came stories of another kind — stories of heroism, stories of hope, stories of love.
I was forever changed that day. Though I grasped a deeper sense of the evil that exists, I developed an even greater understanding of the love that conquers it. I watched as people from around the world set aside their differences to pour their support and love on the victims from that day. I realized that while many of us have varying opinions, our core values of love and respect for life are the same. Looking back, September 11th was not the day that I lost hope in humanity, it was the day that I saw it at its best.