Remembering 9/11 And The Lessons It Taught
Being from New Jersey, within a 20-minute drive of New York City, I remember September 11, 2001 vividly. The memories are haunting every year.
As we remember the terrorist attacks of that fateful day it occurred to me that near every youngster currently in school, from kindergarten to high school senior, was not born when the attacks happened. That is an entire generation that is unaware of an event that changed world history. That happens with any event of this magnitude. After all, we were not born when Pearl Harbor happened, but we remember how it changed America.
But for some of us, the vivid memories of 9/11 won’t ever be erased. It was the first time in our lives that we came face to face with the realization that America could be attacked on its own land to devastating effect. The thought of some people, who are now verging into adulthood, who have no personal recollection of that attack is staggering.
There are some things that cannot be learned from a textbook. And that is why I want to share my story and describe the events of September 11, 2001 for those who do not remember it, and for those who did not live near the attacks.
It was early in the morning and I had awoken and put the channel on to Fox 5 New York to watch “Good Day New York” as I had every day. My mother, RIP, was preparing to go to a closing on some real estate and my brother was on his way to meet us from Atlantic City.
As my mom was getting dressed the first plane hit. I shouted to her “There was an accident at the World Trade Center. Some plane hit it and the television went out.”
The assumption at that time was that it was a single engine private plane and the reason the television went out for a minute was that the antennas that transmitted the signals for the local stations were on the World Trade Center.
A short time after that first plane struck it became painfully obvious that it was no accident. After the next plane struck I shouted “This is no accident. We are being attacked.”
My mom rushed to the phone to call my brother, careful not to tell him what was going on but to find out how far he was from our home. She told him to come straight to the house. She then called my sisters and told them to get their kids from school. We were going to have the entire family together in case the attack was more than we were aware of.
We went to get family members we had to get but the majority huddled in their own homes. The closing was cancelled, and people called out of work and school. We waited to hear from President George W. Bush to find out what was happening.
As we waited we watched the first tower fall. The tears began to roll as I cried. I knew that in that instant, thousands of lives were lost, and I was helpless. There was nothing I could do to save anyone.
As tower number two fell the same thoughts came to mind. I was on the phone with my friend, both of us reasonably tough men, both in professional wrestling at the time, openly crying at the humanity before our eyes.
It was not long after that we heard the news of the Flight 93 crash and then we heard the news that a plane was headed for the White House. That plane would eventually strike the Pentagon. We had no idea how many more airplanes, which were now hostage occupied missiles, were in the sky. It was like our world was falling apart.
The panic and the fear was palpable. We had spent our entire lives able to see those two magnificent towers from our windows and as we drove and now they were gone. The skyline of the greatest city in the world was forever changed and we had no idea what else was going to be attacked. Every major city was on high alert. Every airplane a potential harbinger of destruction.
The smell of burning was in the sir. Smoke filled our skies. Military jets and helicopters were overhead as if we were in a war zone, and we were.
I also won’t forget the days, weeks and months after those attacks. Americans came together as they never had before. Race, gender, sexuality and religion did not matter. It did not matter if you were a Republican, Democrat or independent. For that time, we were what we had aspired to be. One nation under God and we were indivisible. From that tragedy came a thing of beauty.
Now as the years go by and the memory of those attacks fades into a one day a year remembrance, we barely put aside what divides us, even for those 24 hours. It makes one wonder, is that what it takes to bring unity? Is that what is needed to bring America together? And even then, only for a brief time.
If people took the time to write a list and, on one sheet of paper they wrote what divides us and on the other sheet they wrote the ways in which every human is similar they would find that they did not need a ton of paper to list our divisions. But to list what unites us would take several sheets. It could even take a book.
On this September 11 anniversary we should think about those things that unite, not only Americans, but people around the world. We should remember our allies like Canada, Mexico, Britain, France, Germany, Australia and Israel who sent help, aid and their prayers. We should remember the people of Iran who bravely held vigils for the United States.
We have enemies in the world. We should remember who they are, and we should hold fast to our friends. It should not take another tragedy to do it.