15 Years Later: September 11th, 2001
I was 6 years old on 9/11.
Now before you tell me that I don’t remember much or that it didn’t really affect me, let me tell you something. I remember, not everything, but a lot of things. This day is a hard day for any American, but to me, it is one of the most important days of my life. It’s the day I learned, in a shocking, borderline earth-shattering way, what this country really means to me.
I grew up around veterans. My mother’s dad, who will from here on out be referred to as Grandaddy, and my father’s stepdad, who will from here on out be referred to as Grandpa Bill, are both Korea era Navy Veterans, who have set a beautiful example of service I can only hope to one day live up to. My dad’s biological father, who will from here on out be referred to as Grandaddy Merritt, in my opinion, served this nation in a different way, by shining a light on the biggest issues of his time through the craft of photo journalism. I was exposed at a very young age, in infancy actually, to these men who did what they loved and were good at to attempt to bring change to the world, and as an adult, their example inspires me to be the best version of myself that I can be.
All that being said, back to what this article is about.
9/11/01 was a normal day for me. I got ready for school, probably missed the bus with my brother and older sister and got driven to a small Christian school about 25 minutes away from our house by my mom. I arrived at school, was probably late, and walked into Miss. Sybesma’s first grade classroom, my twin brother right beside me. We had been there for about an hour when our principal, a genteel older man whose name I can’t remember came into the room. He pulled our teacher into the hallway and was talking to her for a little bit. Imagine what this gossipy group of first graders thought about the situation.
“What’d she do?”
“Is she in trouble?”
Little did we know that our worst ideas wouldn’t have topped what actually happened. After a few minutes, she came in, grabbed her purse and jacket, and walked out again. Our principal was our teacher for the rest of the day, and you can bet we were on our best behavior. The day passed with relative ease and when we arrived home, I was talking to my dad about how our teacher left.
“Yeah, she left in the middle of the day, and the principal was our teacher. Isn’t that weird?” (Or something like that.)
His eyes were glued to the tv. I got frustrated, as most young kids do when they think they’re being ignored, and looked up at the tv to see what could possibly be more important than me in that moment. The flaming towers of the World Trade Center were what greeted me. Having grown up a little bit away from New York City, and traveling there often with my family, I knew what those buildings were, and that they were definitely not supposed to be on fire. It was weird, almost as if time stopped, and it became clear. Something was wrong with Tuesday, September 11th, 2001. I didn’t know the word “terrorism” until later, but whatever I thought it was, was just as bad. The tv switched to the smoldering side of the Pentagon, where you could see the tail of an airplane sticking out of the building and hear reporters talking about an attack on our country, involving four planes, one of which had never made it to its intended target, which analysts assumed was either The White House or The Capital Building. Being six years old, I couldn’t contribute to any conversation that was to be had, or understand the analysts when they said that this terror group or another had claimed responsibility for the deaths of thousands of innocent people. All I could do was listen. So I did.
A little while later, the phone rang. I didn’t know this until after the phone had been hung up, but it was my Aunt calling. She lived in New York City with my uncle at the time, and no one had heard from her or him, which, understandably, was worrisome. My dad answered the phone very business like. It was a wall phone, you know, one with a chord and a distance limit as to where you could go with it. I don’t know where they ended up that night, but I doubt they went back to their apartment. Until that point, I had only ever seen my dad cry that I could remember. It was about a year earlier at his father, Grandaddy Merritt’s funeral. This time, however, they were tears of joy, or at least I hope they were. I was doing my homework at this point, practicing writing my ABC’s properly, but I had unintentionally situated myself as close to the tv as I could get, while still sitting at the table. There was a part of my little red headed brain that wanted to understand. Things continued on, though the air of somberness never lifted, and so did I All in all, this day ended as normally as it began: eat, shower, change into pj’s, pray, sleep.
NOTE: I’m reflecting on my experience as a child as an adult, so pardon the large words.
All of that being said, in the days after this horrible day, things were explained to me in a way that was easy to digest, although still unpleasant. Bad guys came and attacked our country, and lots of people died and got hurt. They flew planes into our buildings and hurt a lot of good people. Very dumbed down versions of the story that young kids would understand, and come to know the horror of the situation without explicitly saying it in gory detail. I don’t think that six year old me actually wanted to know the full truth. I was 6. I was happy to live in a bubble of blissful ignorance of the matter at hand.
It wasn’t until a few years later, after Al Queda claimed responsibility fot the murder of 3,000 americans, after our nation had gone to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, after good American soldiers had been mutilated by IED’s, after a helicopter American special forces operators on their way to rescue their comrade were shot out of the sky by a kid with an RPG, after so much horror, from explosions to fire fights and seeing it all on tv, did I know the truth in its fullness. Words like terrorism and war were all of a sudden more than things people talked about when I was around that I didn’t get. They were now parts of my every day life. They were things that, even to this day, I am subconsciously afraid of. I don’t get on an airplane without praying to Jesus that I get off said plane where I’m going, be it a 30 minute flight or a 5 hour flight.
That may sound harsh, and I realize that. I realize that my irrational fears caused by this day don’t make sense to other people. I realize that people my age don’t remember much about that day, but I do. Looking back, I think it’s because there was so much at stake. My family had suffered enough, and we hoped beyond hope that we wouldn’t have another reason for sorrow. My community was impacted, being so close to the events made people realize that it’s not just the city of New York that needed help and prayers, but all of us did. It brought us together. It made us see past the conflict we had with our neighbors and to the hearts of who they were. It changed things, some for the worse, sadly, and others for the better.
It’s one thing to be in a country where it happens. It’s another entirely to be 45 minutes away from the scene of the crime.
It’s another thing to have family that may have been impacted by it, and it’s another thing to realize that a place you love more than anywhere else in the world is no longer the place it was when you were there for your mom’s birthday 2 months earlier.
And as an adult, it’s another thing to realize, as you’re standing under the almost completed Freedom Tower looking at a memorial that has names of 3,000+ people whose lives were stripped from them that day, that freedom isn’t free, and it’s worth fighting for.
I know that this is a little late, and I am sorry. But I’ve been working on it for a while and wanted it to be worth looking at. 9/11 changed a lot of things for me. It made me realize a lot of things, and it challenged me to look at my life, my country and the world we live in differently. Marcus Luttrell was right when, in his RNC speech this year, he said “the world outside our boarders is a dark place, a scary place…” If anyone would know, it would be him. But he was also right when he said this right after: “America is the light, and her people are the goodness that grow from that. She’ll always be worth fighting for.” That’s one fight I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. It’s gonna be knock down, drag out, but it’ll be worth it.
From Logan, Utah
God Bless America