It’s more than a catchphrase; it’s something we should all truly live by: never forget. Those two words will be flying around a lot today, as we commemorate the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
I did not personally know anyone who was killed nor did I know anyone who experienced the attacks firsthand, but the experience of watching the horror unfold on television is something that changed me forever– and changed our entire country forever.
Like most of us, I will always remember where I was when it happened. I was working in the marketing department of a hospital system in Anderson, S.C. I used to get to work much earlier than I do now; I believe I had to be there by 8 a.m. That day, a beautiful Tuesday like today, I had an interview at 8:30 with a nursing manager on 8 South. His name was Gayle, and I’ve always remembered that because his name was Gayle and there was a female nursing manager named Eddie! I did a quick interview with him and when I walked out of his office, I noticed a group of five or six nurses huddled around the television in a patient’s room. Their faces were horrified. I looked up at the TV and saw a gaping, burning hole in one of the World Trade Center towers. I asked one of the nurses what had happened and she told me that apparently there had been some kind of freak accident and a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I remember rushing back to my office, where there was a TV (because we had a closed-circuit hospital news station that my office managed), and I turned it to the Today show and told my co-worker Jason what had happened. We were both looking at the TV, and I remember the show’s hosts were talking about the first “freak accident” when another huge plane appeared, moving unbelievably fast, and hit the second tower. I have never been so shocked and terrified in my life. It was at that moment we all realized this was not a freak accident; it was an attack. On civilians. Before 9/11, this was unfathomable. As Americans, we all felt untouchable. None of us have ever experienced a war on our soil. We don’t know what it’s like to be afraid to go outside, to fear for our lives doing ordinary, daily tasks.
But 9/11 made the threat very real. People were going about their normal workdays in the World Trade Center and in the Pentagon, when suddenly, their lives were snuffed out. It’s hard to think about, to even imagine, but we all know that it happened.
I once dated a conspiracy theorist who believed that Flight 77 didn’t hit the Pentagon; that it was hit by a missile. He never could explain what happened to the plane. I’ve seen the video and I know it was the plane. It was going 500 mph; not exactly easy to catch on a surveillance camera.
That’s neither here nor there. As I said, I wasn’t personally affected by the attacks, but then again, I was. My life changed. I spent the rest of that day–and weeks afterward– glued to CNN, to the Internet, reading stories about those who died, what they were like. 2,977 innocent people lost their lives, and I read through a website that listed every one of their names, biographical information and photos. I can’t say that I remember them all, of course, but they deserve to be read about, to be remembered, if only for a moment.
I became so obsessed with reading all I could about the attacks that it was all I did for a while, even at work. I remember that I had to go have a talk with my boss, because I was not being productive at all, and I had to explain that 9/11 had traumatized me and that I could not think about anything else. To his credit, he was understanding, and worked with me through it. Eventually, I moved on, but I have never forgotten. Nor will I.
Around this time of year, every year, I start watching 9/11 documentaries. Every time, I hear a new story. Every time, I’m brought to tears by the losses, but most of all, the heroism. I’ve lost count of how many stories I’ve heard of everyday businessmen and women, and of course the firefighters and law enforcement personnel, who were last seen on such-and-such floor of the World Trade Center, and they were heading up, to rescue more people, not down, to save themselves.
I’d like to think that if I were there, I’d be one of the ones helping to get others out, but who knows. When your life is literally in danger, you never know how you may react. I know a friend of mine had a bomb scare in her downtown Los Angeles building a few weeks after 9/11, and she said she wanted to live so badly that she flew down those stairs and didn’t care about anyone else. I can’t judge her for that; I may have done the same thing.
I just hope that we will always remember the sacrifice of this day 11 years ago. A hundred years after Titanic, the disaster has been made into an amusement park, a child’s blow-up slide. I hope to GOD that there are never children’s toys of the Twin Towers, or a theme park where you get on a plane and wonder if you’re going to die or survive. This really happened, and so did Titanic. I hope future generations understand what it means, and take its lessons to heart.
There is evil in the world, yes. But there’s also good. And it’s worth fighting for. God bless America.