9/11 From the Perspective of a High School Senior

I can clearly remember the events of September 11th, 2001 as clear as the blue sky was on that day.

Other than the fact that Michael Jordan had just announced his coming out of retirement the night before, it was just an ordinary day as myself and my classmates were busy transitioning into high school. As if the transition was not challenging enough, then the unthinkable happened.

I remember arriving in choir class during the first period of the day, the bright sun shining through the windows. My classmates and I were singing songs, which were being led by our new choir teacher who was new to the school. At some point during class, the music suddenly stopped. I remember feeling a sense of confusion, and tension in the classroom but I had no idea why. Our teacher stated that they are saying that a plane had just flown into the Twin Towers. At this point, all I could think to myself were the questions of “Why would a plane crash into the Twin Towers”? It seemed too strange to me to be simply some sort of freak accident.

A few moments later, my choir teacher asked for a volunteer to set up the television so we could see what was actually happening on the news. I instinctively raised my hand, and rushed into the adjacent room where I wheeled in the old television on its cart.

During those days, there were no high definition televisions, and they were much larger and bulkier to handle. Upon wheeling it in, I crouched down and quickly hooked up the television into the outlet. I did not have to look up at the television to know that the unimaginable had happened.

The voices of my classmates had spoken volumes, and I did not have to look up at the television to know that something terrible was happening. My stomach twisted in knots, and when I stood up to look at the television I saw the live footage of the destroyed North Tower, as the smoke continuously was rising from the structure. A few minutes later, at 9:03 a.m. I could not believe my eyes, as I had viewed another airplane crash directly into the South Tower, in a manner which did not seem like any accident. At the time, everyone was in a state of shock, and confusion. It seemed to me like some sort of bad science fiction movie that I was watching, rather than reality.

Afterwards, we continued to proceed to our classes according to schedule, and our teachers were very calm and supportive to us, despite what was occurring.

I would imagine that perhaps they had not received directions from the administration, as nobody knew why this was happening, and what would come next. As the events of the day were unfolding, I remember being informed that the towers had collapsed, and at this point there was an air of panic that pervaded our school. At this point in time, many parents were calling the school to pick up their children, as there were so many of them who worked in New York City.

I remember feeling thankful that my parents did not work in the city, however I immediately became concerned about family members who may have been in the city at that time. Although I had reacted in a cool, calm, and collected fashion, I knew that it was important for me to be there for my little sister, who was also a freshman in high school at that time. She appeared to be frightened and worried, as she knew people who worked in the World Trade Center.

One student for example had a father who worked in one of the towers, and was able to run down 80 flights of stairs only to get out of the tower just moments before its collapse. If he had not been an avid runner, then in all likelihood he would have not survived. At the end of the school day, I convened with my buddies next to our usual meeting spot which was in the main lobby near the school’s entrance, and we vented about how we felt. When I returned home from school that day, my mother was in a state of panic, as she had been watching everything unfold with my cousin, who happened to be visiting our home that day. All I remember after that is my mother being on the phone that evening with what seemed like the whole world, trying to find out if everyone she knew was safe. Tragically, her cousin had told her that his wife had been on one of the towers on the 89th floor.

Apparently, she had called him to tell him what had happened, and that she was waiting to get onto an elevator to leave. Tragically, he had never heard from her again, and her body was never recovered. Even more tragic, was the fact that it was the same day as the birthday of her twin daughters, and she had contemplated taking a personal day to spend the day with them. Tragically, her decision was a fatal one.

Unfortunately, that was not the only tragedy that we learned about that day. We had later learned that Saint Nicholas Church at Ground Zero had been demolished. This church was of great sentimental value to my grandfather, as it had been built in 1916 as a refuge for New York City immigrants. His father was one of the first presidents of the church, prior to my grandfather taking over. Until his death in 2017 at the age of 96, he would spend the rest of his life working tirelessly with others to organize fundraising events to help rebuild the fallen church.

Finally, it was determined that the church would be rebuilt as a national shrine which houses an area for meditation of people of all faiths and denominations to reflect. On September 10, 2021 the national shrine lit up for the first time in honor of those lives lost 20 years ago, as well as lives that have been lost since.

For me personally, reflecting on this tragedy my mind goes to one of my childhood heroes, Mr. Fred Rogers, whose words of wisdom still shine through to this day. Rather than reacting to all of the evil that exists in the world with a spirit of bitterness and hate, I believe that the best way to challenge this is to focus on the works of the upstanders, and those who respond to bad situations as everyday heroes would. As in the recovery of 9/11, I believe it would be consoling for us to focus on those stories which brought people closer together as a result of this tragedy, as well as learning from and being inspired by the stories featuring the unsung helpers, whose healing presence should never be forgotten.

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