11 September 2011

Reflections on 9/11

10 years ago, I woke up thinking it was just another ordinary school day in the beginning of my Senior year. Mom drove me to school and we heard on the news that a plane had hit a building in New York City. We both gasped and said "Oh how sad, I wonder what happened?". She dropped me off and I went to class and discussed it with the other people in my class. A few minutes later, another classmate came in and said "A plane hit the World Trade Center, they're calling it terrorism". We said "Yeah, we know" and he said "No, a second plane". We turned on the tv and saw the images that were burned in the minds of the world for forever.

Oh dear God. What has happened? Nobody knew anything but that two planes intentionally flew into the two towers. We watched in horror as the news replayed footage of the planes veering and crashing. I think it was at that point that everyone migrated to the band room to watch the nightmare unfolding live on the screen before our very eyes. The entirety of the 7th - 12th grades and all our teachers were in there. Yeah, it was a small school... 

The nightmare only got worse. A plane ran into the Pentagon. A 4th plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Speculation abounded from the reporters and anchor-people as to whether there was more to come, especially since there were reports that although all planes had been grounded, some were still accounted for. Were they headed for the Capitol? The White House? Our school? Perhaps it seems silly now, looking back, to even consider wondering if terrorists were intending to take out our little private school in Cedar Park, TX but the Pentagon, the very center of the military, had been hit, clearly nobody was safe.

We watched as the towers fell. The second one we saw live as it happened. Most of us at school were a bunch of jabberwockies, and we had a few teachers who were pretty talkative too, but in those moments, I think you could have heard a pin drop, even with the floor being carpeted. We cried. I was having a rough year, I didn't get along with some of the people at school, but that day our petty differences were put aside, teenage squabbles forgotten, grudges left by the wayside. I think we knew instinctively that the world has just changed. Our sense of safety and security was shattered. I remember the first time I saw a plane go overhead after that day, I watched in fear, sure it was going to turn and dive for a building. The terrorists had done their job. Beyond killing people, they had shattered a nation's sense of security. They had struck more than a blow at our economic infrastructure or the hub of our military, they had brought fear to our hearts. Nothing would ever be the same.

And yet... did they? Even as the masterminds responsible must have surely sat there congratulating themselves and celebrating, telling themselves that they had struck a mighty blow at the Great Satan, the infidels in the west, my countrymen and I were banding together in prayer, in good thoughts, coordinating blood drives, heading to New York City to help with the relief efforts as crews rushed to try to find survivors while the world looked on holding it's breath, hoping against hope that by some miraculous intervention there would still be people alive in the rubble. We drew together, united by our love for one another, standing hand in hand to say to those who had lost family and friends, or who still didn't know where their loved ones were, that we were here, that we would stand vigil with them. Over the next days, we celebrated with the few lucky who had gotten the most wonderful news that their loved ones were still alive, and we mourned with the many who had no such consolation. We went from paralyzed with fear to burning with anger at such a cowardly act in the name of Allah, and started looking for the culprits and determined to bring them to justice, to serve vengeance. We went to war even as we went to funerals and we said that we would never rest until those responsible paid the price for all that they had stolen. We were united in sadness, anger, fear, love, friendship, and perhaps a ray of hope.

As the days went by, stories of bravery and courage emerged. It was brought to light that the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania crashed because the passengers found out about the other three planes and determined not to let their flight be used in another attack. They made the choice to die fighting, to sacrifice themselves so that others could live. Firemen, police, EMT's responded to the disasters and ran in to save lives, knowing there was a good chance they wouldn't make it out alive but determined to give their all to try to save others. They all died heroes and even today, their bravery is remembered and recognized, memorialized in the eyes of the world as shining examples of heroism and selflessness, as reminders that good does exist in the face of evil.

10 years have passed and I remember it like it was yesterday. I can still hear the gasps and sobs in the bandroom as a bunch of scared kids watched the news in horror wondering how this could be happening. I can hear Nina crying, I can feel the fabric of Austin's uniform pants as I leaned against his leg. A decade later, I wonder what the world would be like, what I would be like, if 9/11 hadn't happened. I reflect on all that I've done and the person I've become, and I am grateful that my name isn't inscribed on the newly unveiled memorial in New York City. I am reminded that life is fleeting, that there is no guarantee of tomorrow. Only a few of the people who got on those four planes knew that the would never see tomorrow. All but those responsible thought that they had time. It serves as a reminder that life is fragile, and that the actions of a few can change the course of history for the world.

10 years later, thousands of people have died, but I am not one of them and by the grace of God, neither are my husband, my cousins, my brothers. 10 years later, I reflect on who I have become and I thank God in Heaven for His mercy towards me and mine. Today, I do more than just remember 9/11. I pay tribute to the memory of those who died in the attacks on our country, to the responders who rushed in looking for lives to save and gave their own in the process, to those who survived and live with the scars of that awful day, to those who lost a loved one, to the thousands of troops from our military and the militaries of our allies who have gone to war on the orders of their superiors since that day, to all those who have died in a decade of aftermath. I am a better person because of every single one of them.

I challenge everyone reading this to join me in honoring their memories by choosing to live your life to the fullest, to make the most of every second you have been given, to never take even a moment for granted. Let us stand united against intolerance, let us spread truth to fight ignorance, let us use love and forgiveness to combat the anger that fuels the fires of hatred that burns within any who would seek to destroy the world through acts of terror. My we never forget all those who died, and may we live in such a way as to eternally honor their memories.


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