What did we, as a nation, learn on September 11th? There are so many lessons that we can take away from that simple question, that it would take whole essays to explain. Each person that witnessed that day, will need to find their own answers, and in the end it will always be viewed as a turning point in the affairs of America. For myself, I decided to become a Medic, if not in words, I decided I would do my best to emulate the firefighters that showed so much bravery that day. Selflessly, futilely rushing to their doom, so others may live.
I can tell you where I was. I was in the master bedroom, sitting next to my mother, who was silently crying. Like many listless teenagers with nothing to do I had stayed up all night so I was up when it happened, I don't remember a hint of tiredness, despite the fact that when this happened I would have typically, gone to sleep, being a bit of a night owl. But on 9/11 I like my mother was glued to CNN and later Fox News for over 12 hours. I remember seeing the North Tower on fire and hearing "Small plane, possibly a Cessna" had hit it. My thought was no way that was a Cessna. and I remembered thinking that the pilot must've been drunk, because it was clear, there's no way they could have missed the big towers.
I remained confidant that the fire would be put out eventually people would be dead, naturally, but there would be survivors, and things would be brought back under control in short order. I have no lack of confidence that the building would stand, and that despite this tragic occurrence all would be well.
Then I saw United 175. I don't remember if I said anything, but as soon as I saw the plane on screen it was absolutely, painfully clear what was going to happen. I remember thinking no, no, no, NO. and then the plane almost gracefully was obscured by the tower. . . and then the fireball. In that one moment, I realized this was something that no one had ever seen before. A fully loaded passenger plane barreling into a building like a cruse missile, who, honestly would have thought such a thing would, or more importantly could happen.
I do not want to talk about seeing the jumpers, but lets face it, that is perhaps some of the cruelest part of the whole day, watching helplessly as person after person fell to their doom. You could see a few had tried to climb down to a floor below, and simply lost their hand holds. Others, willingly took the leap, falling far away from the building. I will never forget the image of two people holding hands as they fell. Who were they? Two strangers, or close friends? They held onto each other all 90 odd floors down, and one tends to hope that somehow that closeness gave them some strength in the end. Worse, was the question, what sort of Hell were they trying to escape?
The hits just came one after another after that. 6 planes were hijacked (really only 4), some were headed towards the Sears Tower, some were headed to the Space Needle. It was utter confusion. Then the Pentagon was reported to be on fire. Another flight (later identified to be United Airlines flight 93) was said to be heading up the Potomac to hit the White House. All was utter confusion. What could possibly happen next?
And then the South Tower fell. In retrospect you kind of knew that it would collapse, and as it bent to the side you knew this was it, but the twin towers! They weren't supposed to fall! It wasn't until much later that it was explained how many people in the triage center in the lobby, had just simply ceased to exist. When the North Tower finally almost hesitantly began to collapse, you kind of knew it was coming, that it was really inevitable at this point. The cloud as it fell was almost beautiful in a terrible sort of way.
We are given a number of images. We are given a number of conflicting emotions. I know I might never have joined the Army if not for 9/11. I know that a lot of the path my life would have taken would not have happened. I know that I will not be the same for the rest of my life, and though I do wish that 9/11 hadn't happened, I know that it is an event you just can't take back. It will be woven into the tapestry of our history, and it will not be forgotten even after all that were alive that day have long faded to dust.