Today is the ninth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the United States. Up until that day, my generation of Americans were fortunate enough not to have experienced war or attack on a first hand basis. The wars we saw were on CNN or Fox and written in the newspapers. They seemed like light years away from our homes and families. On that sunny morning in September, everything changed.
For me, the day marked a definitive point. I think it was a turning point in my parents’ decision to move back to Ireland after ten years of life in Brooklyn. It was a tragic day, a poignant day and above all a terrifying day.
I started that morning like most fifteen year old New Yorkers – and walked to school. On the way, I passed election posters for local office and chatted with a friend. It was our second or third day back to high school and we were dreading our sophomore summer reading tests coming up that day.
I was sitting in English class staring down at that test when the announcement was made over the intercom.
Attention students: If anyone has any relatives that work in the World Trade Center, could you please come down to the General Office as soon as possible. Thank You.
Not one person looked up from their exam. The test continued on in silence until another announcement was made.
Attention students: Just a little while ago, an airplane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Again, anyone with relatives working in the area, please come to the General Office immediately. Thank You
The idea was so surreal that still, not one girl looked up from her English test. I remember glancing up at the clock. I remember looking out the window, wishing I was out enjoying the sunshine and I remember handing up the test hoping that it would be enough to get me a good mark. I don’t remember thinking, A PLANE DID WHAT?!
When I arrived out in the corridor, it was like mayhem. Girls were rushing around asking each other what was going on. Cell phones were out as people desperately called their parents and relatives for answers. A friend of mine had an aunt who was working there and she was really distraught. I went with her to the General Office as she tried to call home. Luckily, her aunt was late for work that morning and was stuck in traffic in Queens somewhere.
While we were on the phone with her mother (around ten o’ clock) the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. There is no way I can convey our complete shock and surprise. Up until then, we hadn’t seen any images of the attack and couldn’t possibly fathom what a plane looked like crashing into the Twin Towers! Imagine someone describing two huge buildings crumbling to you – over the phone! We literally couldn’t speak.
As we sat around in the cafeteria, and in our regular classes there was nothing but complete confusion. We had no TV or radios and all the teachers could do was try to continue on with their lessons. They were constantly interrupted by announcements on the loud-speaker as parents came one by one to collect their daughters. Originally it was thought that the safest place for us to be was in school, but after a while, they closed the school and sent us all home.
I took the bus home that day, even though I could have walked. It was the quietest bus journey I have ever been on. The bus was packed to the brim but people turned their eyes to the floor and didn’t say a word to one another. I just prayed I would get home quickly.
When I arrived at home, I wasn’t sure what I would find. I knew my mum was off that day, and I wasn’t sure if my dad had decided to take a trip into Manhattan or not. When I got inside, there was no one home and in order to fill the silence of the house, I did the instinctive thing and turned on the television. Of course I was greeted with my first image of the Towers. As the plane crashed through one of New York’s strongest symbols I couldn’t help but cry. In fact, I balled.
I ran to the phone to call my Dad’s cell phone, but of course by now all the signals were gone and people weren’t reachable. I had nothing left to do but sit and cry.
Maybe ten minutes later, thankfully, the hall door opened and both my parents came in with a week’s worth of shopping. It looked like we weren’t going anywhere for a while.
The next few days are a blur. The whole city was glued to CNN. You didn’t want to see the horrible images, but you couldn’t help but look. The whole thing looked like a blockbuster film. The worst images were of the people jumping from the Towers. I don’t think I will ever be able to erase them from my mind. Just as horrible were the clips of people searching for loved ones, placing posters around the area and making desperate pleas on television. I thanked my lucky stars that my family were safe and sound in Brooklyn or Queens.
In the aftermath, New York was a different place entirely. People became extremely patriotic and much more neighborly to one another. People were definitely angry and looking for someone to blame. At school, several girls in my year had lost family members and we rallied around them with memorial services and masses.
About a month after the attacks, my concert choir was asked to sing at an NYPD memorial. As we stood there in our school uniforms, looking out at New York’s finest and singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, I couldn’t help but think that America would never be the same again.
Nine years later, the wound is still fresh as the debate over the Ground Zero Mosque and the chaos surrounding the burning of the Koran rages on.
I hope all of that is put aside today, just for one day, as all around the world we remember the innocent lives that were lost on September 11th, 2001.