This is a repost from last year, but my sentiments haven’t changed, so I didn’t feel the need to update my words.
Like our parents before us, who can tell you down to the detail where they were and what they were doing the day JFK was shot, most of us know where we were when the Towers fell, when the Pentagon was attacked, when a group of strangers banded together to become heroes. When the world stopped turning, as Alan Jackson so eloquently put it.
It’s eleven years later and I still can’t stop to think about it without tearing up. I was working at the State Department at the time, but that morning I had a doctor’s appointment, so I was going to work late. I’d heard something about a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers before my appointment, but it didn’t register that it was a major disaster. Not until I was out of the office and in the car on the way to the Metro, when I heard the rest of the news, that I understood something horrific had occurred. I immediately turned around and went home. I also heard reports of the State Department being attacked, which put me into such a panic I accidentally rear-ended my father-in-law’s car when I pulled into the driveway. I can’t begin to express to you the relief I felt after hearing those were false reports, that my friends and colleagues were unharmed. A short-lived relief, as news of the attack on the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA was released. The rest of the day is a blur–watching the images of the planes crashing into the Towers, the gaping hole at the Pentagon, and the bloody-ashy-fiery aftermath of it all.
What I remember most are the days that followed. How I’d choose my shoes based on whether I could quickly and safely evacuate if I were wearing them. (No more heels, not for a long time.) How everyone–everyone–would stop and look up when planes began flying again. How all of us came together during this time; there was no black and white, gay and straight, blue state and red state. We were just Americans, and we were there for each other. We witnessed firsthand the best of humanity in the face of the worst. If there was ever any doubt about whether heroes still existed, it was erased once the stories started being told. Not only of the countless first responders and military personnel who lost their lives trying to save others, but in ordinary heroes like the passengers of United Flight 93.
Many tribute sites and memes floating around show the Towers on fire; it might be one of the most iconic photographs of our time. But while I stand with my fellow Americans in remembering 9-11 today, it’s not the destruction, the terror, that I choose to reflect on. Today, I’m remembering the victims, their families, and the heroes who remind me of the ultimate good that lies within us, despite the ever-presence of evil.
Where were you when the world stopped turning?