One more post before I go back to my regular posts, since today is a day that so many of us can never forget, I wanted to share my thoughts, feelings, memories, and such with you all.
The Day Our World Changed
I can remember the events of that day, not like it was fifteen years ago, but like it was yesterday. I was a ninth grader, getting up and ready to go to catch the bus to go to school as most kids were doing in September. At the same time I was getting up for school, in Maine two men were boarding a Colgan Air Flight from Portland to Boston, Massachusetts. These two men would be part of a group of men who would change the lives of millions of people, not just in America, but all across the world in less than 24 hours.
As we gathered up our book bags at home, got aboard our buses, and stepped into our classrooms for morning school announcements we would have no idea that in a couple of hours part of our innocence would be taken away. Our parents drank their morning coffee, watched the morning news, got in their cars, sat in traffic, went into work and started their days, not knowing in a few hours their lives would be changed as well. What had become routine in their lives was going to be rocked and changed forever.
Everyone has their own story of where they were and what they were doing that day, and like most of our grandparents remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard of Pearl Harbor, or JFK being shot, or Elvis Presley dying. Our parents remember what they were doing or where they were when the Vietnam War started. We too remember where we were and what we were doing when the attacks of September 11th, 2001 happened. This is my story, what I felt, how I think the world changed, and what I think we “gained” from that day.
I was in math class in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, when I started to get a really bad headache. After our teacher gave us our in class assignment for that day I went to him and asked if I could go down to the nurses office and get a headache tablet. He gave me permission and I proceeded downstairs. When I got to the nurses station another girl was in there that hadn’t been feeling well and was laying in the room where you go to rest to see if you start feeling better, but she was laying there crying while watching the television. I didn’t want to ask why she was crying, assuming that it was because she didn’t feel good, and continued to wait for the nurse to get back from wherever she was at since the girl said she was to return in a couple minutes.
Standing in the room watching the television with the girl I soon realized why she was crying. There was a program on the television showing one of the world trade center buildings in New York City with smoke billowing out of it, I thought it was a movie at this point. I stood there still watching, when out of the corner of the screen came another airplane, I watched it heading right for the other tower and plowing into it, tearing a hole in the side of the building. It was about then that I looked to the top corner of the screen and saw TODAY SHOW, okay now this has to be part of the movie, but no. I next read on the screen September 11, 2001. Wait a minute, isn’t that what today’s date is, I thought in my head. I continued watching, and a few minutes later the nurse came back into her office. She asked what I needed, I acquired my headache tablets and she sent me back to class.
When I got back to class, a friend of mine was sitting next to me, I leaned over to her and asked her what the date was, she proceeded in telling me, September 11th. I knew, 100%, at that moment that what I saw downstairs was not a movie, but what was really going on, just a state away from us, less than 12 hours drive. I thought, well surely there was an accident, I didn’t even know then what a terrorist was. Yeah there was the Oklahoma City Bombing, and a previous explosion at the World Trade Center, and the Columbine School Shooting that I had known of, but still what was a terrorist? I probably never even thought then that someone would come and attack America on our own soil because after all we had a large military and nothing like that had happened since Pearl Harbor.
So, as I was realizing the date, she had asked me why I wanted to know. I went on to tell her what I saw on the television downstairs, and she straight out said I was full of it. I knew what I saw and she would know soon enough as well. She told me if I was telling the truth to go up and tell the teacher, I went up and he told me to go sit back in my seat and do my work. A few minutes later, the principal got on the intercom that was in every class room and said for the rest of the day classes were going to be canceled and our school was being placed on lock down due to events that were unfolding and for our safety we were to remain at school until either school was out and we were taken home on our buses, or if we wanted we could call our parents and they could come and get us. By that time, parents were already calling the school and preparing to get their children. My father was one of them.
I went to call my father, but he wasn’t at home. I sat there in the classroom watching the television and the events that were unfolding, waiting and hoping that my mom or dad would come and get me from school. Our school was near a small airport, much too small for a large airliner to land at. Later, I found out that one of the planes that were unaccounted for, as we were on lock down at school, had been flying in the area and had no contact with Cleveland Center. No one knew where this plane was at or where it could be heading or landing or crashing. This plane would later crash in Somerset, Pennsylvania, only two, maybe three hours from where I lived. My dad had first picked up my brother from the middle school, then came and got me, that’s why he took so long.
When we got home I called my mom at work to make sure everything was alright. She said her work was being let out for the day too because of everything happening, and asked if I was at school or at home. I told her I was at home and that my dad got me. She sounded relieved. For the rest of the day I sat in front of the television watching everything unfold, scared, in tears, feeling for all the people that were dying. Shocked by images that still are stuck in my mind to this day of buildings on fire, smoking billowing out, planes flying into buildings, heroes running into danger only coming out when they have someone, people jumping to their deaths, trying to escape an only slower death, and buildings falling. Along with these images I remember a trip my family took to New York just a few years before, we went to the Trade Centers, we stood on that roof, and we looked down. We were told how if you dropped a penny from the building what could happen if it hit someone, now that penny had a face, that penny had a life, and that penny was a living, breathing, scared, human being. I may not have actually been in New York that day, but just watching everything was enough for a child to be marked for life with the memories, I don’t even want to imagine what the people were going through who did lose someone that day, who were there, who still go through it every year at this time. I am sure it can not get easier. I still dream of airplanes running into places where they aren’t supposed to be running into, parking lots, hills, fields, and buildings. I still listen when the small planes or helicopters fly over my house near that small airport to make sure that they are not flying too low, or if I am in a place I’m not used to I want to know where the airport is, just in case.
For a long time I was afraid to fly, I did not want to fly for the fear that something could happen at any moment again. After graduating in 2004, I decided I wanted to try and conquer that fear and learn how to fly planes. In 2005, I debated on joining the Air Force, so I could fly and maybe get back at the people who did this to our country. A good bit of guys I graduated with had joined the military too, some for the purpose of revenge, just like a lot had done after Pearl Harbor happened. I didn’t feel that was a good enough reason, after all I could learn how to fly planes without going into the military, and I couldn’t see myself taking someone’s life, even if they were shooting at me, at least not on their home soil. Why would two wrongs make a right?
I did overcome that fear of flying to a point in 2005. I started going to school at the community college, was good at flying the airplane but wasn’t very good at the book work. I had also joined the volunteer fire department, another thing I had wanted to do after seeing those heroes running into danger and coming out with a life that they saved. After a few months I had to move from the area I was in so I had to leave the fire department, but I still wanted to help people. My grandfather kept telling me to go to school to be a nurse, I knew I didn’t want to do that though.
So in 2013, after I had graduated college with an associates in general studies, I decided to go back to being a volunteer firefighter and joined the local fire department again. While there I
was hanging around with some of the emergency medical technicians (EMT) and talking to them and decided I wanted to do their job. I went back to school again and was able to pass the class, get in my patient contacts, and pass my hands-on test. However, when it came to the written exam I failed it three times, which I have never been good at written tests, so now I have to repeat the entire course again.
I feel that I lost trust in the world on 9/11/2001 and the months after. No longer was my world safe. When we were kids we got to go to the airport and watch planes taking off and landing, inside the airport, without a boarding pass. Then 9/11 happened. We now watch airplanes take off and land only if we are going to be boarding one of those planes, or if you live near the airport and you can see them arriving and taking off at the end of the runways and flying low over your house. We now look to the skies if a plane sounds like it may be too low. If you are in your home and you think a plane sounds low you go look…just to make sure. I suppose we “gained” a sense of paranoia. Our dreams went from riding bikes with our friends and spending time with our families to nightmares of planes and people falling from the skies.
American children thought that the world was good. Bombings, mass shootings, and war didn’t happen here. Now…all of a sudden it did happen here, we were not in a world of white picket fences, we did not live in a bubble. Yeah you had crimes you knew about happening around you, but from what we had known planes were not used as demolition balls, or bombs. People didn’t die in a mass amount, in the matter of a few hours, not anymore, now it could happen. Yeah we had already experienced Columbine, taking a sense of security away from us then too, but that was not on scale with this kind of event. We now knew that not only were we not safe at school, but now we worried about our parents at work too. American children lost their innocence. Children lost their innocence all over the planet after they saw what could happen in America. After all, America was land of the free, home of the brave, people came here to make their lives because it was better here, they fled their homelands because it was not safe. Now America too was not safe.
Children learned what death was that day. A lot of us hadn’t even lost family members yet, we never experienced death. People were strangers that we saw on tv, but suddenly they were not strangers they were real people, our parents, our aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters. It didn’t matter what age you were your heart broke for them. We learned about desperation and the will to survive at the same time. We learned how to hate, we learned about what war was like and how it felt to be attacked. We learned what a hero was and how good people could really be as well. How could so much hate show the planet that people can still love one another?
Men and women were risking their own lives to save people they didn’t know. They took the chance that they would not go home that day so that their fellow human being could. So someone else, a complete stranger to them could see their children again, tuck their children in at night, read their child a story as they drifted off to sleep. A stranger could embrace their partner, eat dinner with them, and live another day.
We forever lost freedom. The whole planet. Laws became stricter in most countries, you looked out for each other more, which isn’t really a bad thing. People took off their blinders and realized, this could happen in my world too.
A few years later, us children, who were in the 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th grades would lose some of our friends, some of our family members too, as a result of this day. We would be able to join the military, go off to war, attack someone on their home soil, kill their friends, fathers, mothers, loved ones. So suddenly, just because someone had attacked us first, just because someone was another religion, just because someone looked different than we did, just because someone carried a gun it was okay to shoot them too. Guess what, what do Americans look like, are we not all different, do we not have our religions that our ancestors were also persecuted for, do we not have guns in our homes, haven’t most of us shot a gun or held a gun at some point in our lives? When we were children didn’t we have our toy guns that we pointed at one another playing cowboys and Indians or cop and robber? Anyhow, that’s a whole new can of worms to open.
Our people would go fight a war on terrorism. Another slight rant here, but umm will the world ever be perfect? You take out one terrorist organization another one will pop up some place else, it’s just not possible to rid the world of hate. That’s what has been going on FOR-EV-ER. Even animals do the same thing. A cat doesn’t like a mouse so what does it do? We can never rid the world of every terrorist group, yes we can protect ourselves against them but guess what not all of them are against AMERICANS. I actually feel that after 9/11 and the war on terrorism started that probably more of the world hates us now than they did then.
Anyhow, as a result of 9/11 this war started, now what do we lose? We lose more of our friends, we lose our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, sons and daughters, etc…They lose themselves. These people they go to war to defend us only to come back with depression, PTSD, anxiety, nightmares of what they did over there, what they saw. Some become alcoholics, drug addicts, abusive, they change they are not who we knew before they left. We lose them when they go. Some we lose when they come home when they kill themselves because they just can’t handle it anymore. I am really thankful for the people that if they so choose and feel they can handle everything that war does, go and do that job, I would not be able to handle it. One I don’t want someone shooting at me and two I don’t want to shoot anyone else either.
9/11 was also good for us all. We were able to learn about awareness. Take off those blinders and see that the world is not full of roses, sunshine, and rainbows. As children we were not aware that people can do something so unthinkable. It’s really important that we did learn this lesson because it is part of survival. In order to live and to make the world a better place you need to be aware so you don’t lose your life either. Nobody could imagine that something on this level could have ever happened.
We learned about love. That day a firefighter, employee, police officer, paramedic, citizen, or anyone else that was there near the buildings in New York or at the Pentagon didn’t look at who they were saving, asking what religion they were, didn’t care what color they were, if they were gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, their criminal background, if they had a drug habit, if they were good looking or not, or how much money they had or earned. Everyone was a person, a living, oxygen breathing, heart pumping, red blooded person. They tried their hardest to save one another, they tried their hardest to save themselves too, they embraced one another through tears and fears, they carried one another, they watched together, felt together. For once in our lives we didn’t have our individual feelings, we were all going through something and we felt we needed to stick together to go on.
I remember how many flags went up around the country, the world too, mourning the loss of those we lost was not just done by American citizens, people all around the world mourned with us. They too knew how it felt to mourn the loss of a loved one, they too learned about death that day and hate, they too may have lost someone.
There are so many lessons to have been taken from this day 15 years ago. There are still lessons to be learned, and chances are something like this or on a higher scale will happen again. That’s why we need to continue to remember and never forget. Never forget those lessons that you learned, some of which may not be mentioned here. I also hope I did not offend anyone with my rants, I wanted this to be a reminder of how much we lost as well as what we could take from it and be happy about that we did learn.
Thank you to the men and women that fight for us when we are afraid to fight for ourselves. Thank you to the men and women that run in while everyone else runs out, some of you my brothers and sisters. Thank you to the people who gave up their lives that day so that others could have theirs. Thank you to everyone who mourns with us because we were not in this just as a country, but as a planet, as human beings.