9/11, Eighteen Years Later

I have many half written blogs that need revising, a zillion more blog ideas I have yet to begin, and so I never planned on writing about 9/11, but as I looked on Facebook last evening, and I read comments about how 18 years ago, over 3000 people went to bed unprepared for what awaited them, I became reflective.

Eighteen years ago, I was a brand new teacher just starting my career, incapable of being able to imagine 18 years into the future. I had no idea that I would still be teaching middle school English albeit in a different district on Long Island, or that I would even still live on Long Island, or that I would be the proud mother of two children and a reluctant divorcee. Forty seemed ancient. At 24 years of age, even 30 seemed faraway.

Instead I was only concerned with the present. As a first year teacher, I was more nervous about arriving at school than my students. I was struggling to plan and implement instruction on a daily basis. I couldn’t predict the timing of my lessons, never mind foresee that on a gorgeous September morning, life, as Americans knew it, would change forever.

I can still picture the guidance counselor who entered my classroom, took me into the hall, and kindly explained that the Towers had been attacked, that a plane had hit the Pentagon, and another had crashed in Pennsylvania. I sank to the floor. I could not process what this woman said, but I knew it was horrific. I was worried. My father was working in the city; my sister was attending college in Virginia. My mother and brother were back home in Nassau County. I was lucky; no one close to me was lost.

For days afterwards, I, like everyone else, was glued to the television. We were waiting for another attack. When I finally ventured into the city, the landscape had changed. The National Guard became a familiar yet foreboding presence in Penn Station. The ominous threat of another attack hovered overhead for years. Life was forever altered.

I think all adults look back on their childhoods and young adulthoods with nostalgia for their innocence. My recollections of innocence are all set in a pre-9/11 world. After the attack, my life became clearly divided into pre-9/11 and post-9/11. A clear line was drawn; I am not alone. It seems impossible that my seventh grade students as well as my own children have never inhabited a pre-9/11 world when 9/11 has provided such a clear demarcation in my own.

And yet I don’t want to write about 9/11. The unthinkable happened. Lives were shattered. Heroes were made that day. Not a day goes by that I forget. The anniversary evokes vivid memories of that moment. I can reach out and touch it. I can relive every moment of the day as strange as that sounds. The beautiful blue, nearly cloudless sky I viewed overhead as I drove into Queens early that morning. The utilitarian hallway where the guidance counselor delivered the news. Keeping the information, as per the administration’s request, from my students. Trying to utilize a useless cellphone. Driving home fearful. Watching the news around the clock for the next 48 hours; my school was closed for days.

Today should be a tribute to heroes, a day of remembrance for those lost, but it should also be reminder to live. Because we get one life to live, and we deserve to live it well. Because no one knows what life has in store for us. Because every moment with family and friends, doing what we love, or just living is a gift.

And none of us can foresee the circuitous route our lives take. Until I was 13, my father worked on the seventy-ninth floor of the second Tower. Visits to my father’s work involved an exciting and long subway ride to the bustling World Trade Center; the Towers were a part of my childhood just as they were a part of the NYC skyline for decades.

And in a strange twist, my 4 and a half year old son has become obsessed with the story of Philippe Petit, the man who walked on a tightrope between the Towers in 1974. My father frequently reads a picture book, by Mordicai Gerstein, entitled, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, to him.

One day, my son found a Kodak photo my siblings or I had taken of the Towers, and he said, “That belongs here,” as he slipped the photo into the last pages of the book that read, “But in memory, as if imprinted in the sky, the towers are still there. And part of that memory is the joyful morning, August 7, 1974, when Philippe Petit walked between them in the air.” Gerstein’s last lines are poignant, and the message is straightforward, we can celebrate life in the face of unspeakable tragedy and loss.

And while I am lucky enough to be here, I will continue to make memories and to live joyfully. Not because I don’t remember but because,

We will never forget.

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