Where were you on that fateful Tuesday morning?
I was in bed still, sleeping and blissfully unaware. I was 14, and I had probably stayed up too late reading the night before… honestly, I don’t really remember that part. I do vividly remember my mom coming in to wake me up; I don’t recall her exact words, but I remember the look in her eyes that told me something serious was happening.
We rarely had the television on when I was growing up, and our only TV resided in my parents’ bedroom at the time, so the fact that my mom took me straight back to her room and the TV was an oddity to begin with. Watching the live news coverage all that morning felt surreal, as though this couldn’t possibly be real life—in what world did planes fly into buildings, and people trapped inside those buildings become so desperate as to hurl themselves out windows to certain death?
I think that’s the image that haunted me the most from that day: those people who felt such terror and despair, looking at their surroundings, that they chose what, paradoxically, seemed like a less terrifying option and jumped. Years later, I stumbled across the audio recording of a 911 call from someone inside one of the towers as it collapsed… sometimes you wish you could “un-hear” things.
I remember tears watching President Bush’s speech that first evening… tears listening to Steven Curtis Chapman’s song “God is God” later in the week… tears spilling onto my journal pages for weeks afterward. I had just started a class called Writing the Essay, tutored by Matthew Turnbull, who would become one of my greatest mentors in high school, and I was completely blocked on a topic for my introductory essay for the class, until I sat down and scribbled “Why America is Great” across the top of my page, and both words and tears came streaming out. I wrote about watching my fellow Americans come together in unprecedented (for my lifetime) solidarity, about watching people standing in line for hours to donate blood, about the memorials that were going up all over the country—and most of all, about the core values of American society that we all knew were worth fighting for.
I remember going to church that first Sunday and telling a friend that I felt years older, a rather dramatic statement for a 14-year-old to make, but it was true. For the first time, I had experienced a national tragedy, and for the first time, I had been given the opportunity to feel genuine pride and deep gratitude for my country. My sense of patriotism, although I would have said it existed, had never been tested before, and as I watched speeches across the country that week, I felt a fierce loyalty that I had never yet experienced—and also a deep sadness and even anger toward those who would commit such an atrocity, against my country. It was certainly a time of maturity and growth, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.
Thirteen years have passed incredibly quickly, and in some ways, it still feels like it was yesterday. Life goes on, even for the thousands of families who lost loved ones that day, but despite the reality, I want to remember. I want to remember the compassion and sorrow I felt, especially the moment when it hit me that a lot of children were probably going to bed that night without their mom or their dad. I want to remember the sense of patriotism I felt and the enthusiasm with which I sang “I’m proud to be an American” every time it came on the radio for weeks after the attacks. I’ve seen it all over social media today—“Never Forget”—and although, in some ways, we will forget, especially those of us who were not personally affected, I do know that certain vivid memories will stay in my mind for the rest of my life. And that’s as it should be. Those memories are part of what makes me a proud American, and in honoring those who died and those who heroically gave their lives that day, the least I can do is remember.
We will never know how many unsung heroes there were that day, but it was incredible to see the threads of this story come together. Well worth watching, but keep your tissues handy.