That’s the first word that comes to my mind when I reflect on September 11, 2001.
It began as a beautiful morning. My friends and I laughed and talked as we walked to our first class of the day. Our biggest worries of our freshman year of high school were bad hair days, boys, upcoming tests, and softball games.
As we settled into our desks, our soft-spoken career and technology teacher called the roll and then gave us our to-do list. I can vividly remember her telling us there would be no playing around. She was adamant that we would diligently work until the bell rang and our work would be graded. We quickly partnered up as she called our names and hurried to our different modules to work.
Around 8:50, we suddenly heard live news reports coming from the big boxy television in the corner. It was highly unusual for our teacher to be watching TV; in fact, we didn’t even know that TV covered in dust even worked.
“Is something wrong?” a student asked.
“Keep working. A plane flew into the World Trade Center,” my teacher answered calmly.
“What’s the World Trade Center?” another student questioned.
“Shhhh, just keep working,” she replied.
I remember glancing at the TV and seeing the black smoke billowing from the strong tower. My first thought was that it was a joke or just special effects for a movie. That couldn’t really be happening. Then, the more I heard the reporters talk about the “devastation,” I began to wonder if the pilot had suffered a massive heart attack and lost control. However, that didn’t make sense either, because it seemed as though the co-pilot would have taken over.
Knowing I would never get finished with my assignment before the bell rang, I kept trying to work, but the sight of my teacher frozen in front of the screen seemed awfully strange. Then, one by one, students silently migrated toward the TV. My teacher never objected nor sent anyone back to his or her seat. In a matter of minutes, we were all crowded around trying to make sense of this bizarre disaster.
Minutes after 9:00 a.m., as reporters were speculating what could have happened and whether first responders were on the scene, a black speck streaked across the right side of the screen. My class and the entire nation watched in horror.
“God help us,” my teacher whispered. She understood what we couldn’t fathom.
The live anchors gasped then paused before stating, “There was a second plane! A second plane has just made impact with the other tower. I think we can determine that this was on purpose. This was an attack… There are no words … we have no words.”
“An attack? Attack on what?” several students began asking.
Time stood still for the remainder of that class. Our assignments that were pressing minutes before were pointless. We stood like statues as we tried to wrap our naive minds around what was unfolding like a major Hollywood production before our eyes.
“What’s falling out of the windows?”
“Look, there’s another one falling!”
“What is that?”
Our teacher never answered.
Then without warning, the South Tower buckled. I will never forget the thick, angry cloud of smoke that emerged and powerfully poured between buildings as if it were a monster determined to consume all in its path. Thousands of papers swirled forcefully. Important papers that were pressing to them that morning were now pointless and destroyed.
People became unrecognizable as layers of dust covered their skin, hair, and clothes. Finally, as they staggered through the darkness, bloody and dazed, they had a look on their faces that told us our nation would never be the same.
We left that class in an entirely different manner. The rich kids and poor kids, black kids and white kids, popular kids, and outcasts all walked as one as we crossed the parking lot walking back to the main building. No one spoke a word, but everyone’s eyes searched the sky.
Throughout the day, we watched the second tower collapse. We heard the reports of Flight 77 hitting the Pentagon and then the heroes of Flight 93 fighting their hijackers to the ground. Terrified and vulnerable, we waited to see who or what would be targeted next. Routinely we practiced tornado drills and fire drills at school, but we knew it was impossible to prepare for or seek protection against massive planes purposed to kill.
The gas stations in my tiny town were bumper to bumper with panicked people fueling up their cars and spare gas cans. My team played a miserable softball game after school and solemnly defeated a rival team we hadn’t beaten in years. There was no joy, though. That, too, seemed pointless.
By the end of the day, it was clear to us that America was under attack, and we would soon be at war. My home was over 17 hours away from New York, but I was absolutely paralyzed with fear and glued to the coverage of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the charred field in Pennsylvania. Though I knew none of the victims personally, I grieved for my fellow Americans, who had suffered unimaginable deaths or were still trapped in a prison of smoldering steel. I wept for the thousands of families who had an empty chair at their dinner table that night.
I had seen turmoil in other countries on the news, but never in my America. That was my first true introduction to evil and mass murder. Up until that point, I don’t ever recall hearing the term “terrorist attack.” No matter how hard I tried, I could not understand who could do such a thing and what we had done to deserve it.
My sense of security was savagely stolen that September day.
However, it was also the first time I had seen my country truly united and bursting with patriotism. Beginning that next morning, flags flew on every corner. We sang the National Anthem with renewed pride and tears streaming. The scenes of firemen and policemen selflessly rushing into burning buildings to save strangers were seared into our hearts and minds. Soon we painted our towns in red, white, and blue as brave men and women all over this land left their families and comforts to set foot on foreign soil to defend our freedom and fight a “faceless coward.”
Sadly, today America has become a complacent nation who has so quickly forgotten these deadly attacks. We also have a generation of registered voters who have no recollection of this day. Astonishingly, the most blessed nation on earth that bears the scars of 9/11, has ignorantly elected certain individuals to represent this country who are not for America, but clearly against it. Leaders, who want to pretend the attacks never happened or claim “some people did something” instead of truthfully admitting that an Islamic terrorist group, al-Qaida, intricately planned and confessed to deliberately murdering 2,996 innocent people ages 2-85. More than 6,000 were injured and since that tragic day, over 10,000 people have been diagnosed with cancer linked to inhaling the toxic fumes and smoke of the burning buildings.
Three days after the senseless attacks, our president met with first responders at ground zero. Those exhausted, determined, masculine men who continued searching for people in the rubble and refused to crouch in fear could be heard shouting, “God bless America!” This was a common theme among Americans. We were desperate for God to hear our cries and heal our land. Interestingly enough, we have also elected ungodly leaders, who seek to silence Christians and brazenly proclaim during a tragedy, “We don’t need prayer!”
I vehemently disagree. As a result of our nation being on “bended knee” after 9/11, I firmly believe God heard our prayers, protected us, and “fought for us” (Deuteronomy 3:22).
On this 18th anniversary, may this nation repent of its sins, pray for restoration, and experience revival.
May all who lived through the darkest day in American history, honor those who became a memory by adamantly sharing their story and teaching the truth of that day.
“Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.” – President George W. Bush