There are moments in our lives, that will forever change our perspectives, our fears, but hopefully not who we are.
I was not born when John F. Kennedy was shot. And I was too young to understand the Vietnam war when it happened. The first major event in history during my life, occurred in January of 1986, the space shuttle Challenger disaster. I was working retail in a mail, when the mall music was interrupted by an announcement, that left everyone inside of my store, standing silent. The Challenger had exploded shortly after lift off, killing all members aboard. You could tell the impact this had on everyone, even without seeing it on a television, the description of the event, the horrific tragedy, the loss of the crew. This particular mission was special because for the first time, it had a regular civilian as part of its crew, a teacher. I do not remember how long we all stood in silence, not moving, paralyzed but what we could only imagine what others were seeing.
September 11, 2001 would be the second day in my life, that I would not forget where I was, what I was doing, and what had happened. Only this time, I witnessed it, live on television.
Like everyone else that day, just going about our normal routines, I was at work. We had a regularly scheduled break at 8:55am, but it was not unusual for some to begin their break earlier. I had made my way downstairs to our smaller break room area, a small nook with four chairs, a counter top, and a small television. As I turned the corner after exiting the elevator, I was surprised to see a huge crowd bursting from the limits of the small area. Perhaps a birthday was being celebrated or some other reason for so many to be present.
As I got nearer, I could tell there was no celebrating. In fact, everyone was quiet. The attention of all was directed at the small television that normally was a source of fun and laughter. Except for this time.
We could only watch the NBC affiliate out of Philadelphia. The Today show had just announced that a plane had crashed into Tower 1 of the World Trade Center. At the time, all we could think about was how awful a tragedy this was to have happened, what could have caused the jet to fly so low, and not be able to avoid the skyscraper. And as quickly as some started to theorize about a possible terror attack, we all witnessed the second plane crashing into the second tower.
Though the broadcasters would not come and say it, each and every one of us in that break room, and likely in the world, knew we were under some sort of attack. By who, by what? We all watched and waited to see where the next target would be.
We all just continued to stand around watching this even unfold, as emergencies were declared, restrictions put in place, and then even more unthinkable, the collapsing of the towers, and two more planes crashing, all determined to be part of the same terroristic plot.
Our break time had rolled into our lunch break at 11am before any of us knew it. We were all in shock. How could this be?
I lived two hours away from New York City, but I had traveled there plenty of times. And I will never forget the first time I came out of the Lincoln Tunnel, seeing the new skyline, without the Twin Towers. But my memories of that day pale in comparison to those who lost loved ones that day.
Another first for me, knowing someone who had perished in such a historical, and tragic event. Throughout the different aspects of my life, I would quickly realize those who had been on those fateful planes, first responders – people who basically went into a war zone, and friends who either lived in Manhattan or worked there.
We are reminded every year to “never forget.” Whether there in person, or viewing the tragedy on television, this is something impossible to forget. My daughters are now at an age in school, they are learning about what happened that day, before and after. To talk about this with my daughters, I have the same emotion and impact, as when my grandparents would tell me the day the bombs were dropped on Japan, and yes, when Kennedy was shot.
I know I am not the only one who never wants to see another “9/11”. And that is why it is important to never forget. To never let it happen again, and to remember all who lost their lives, and those who lost loved ones.