Thirteen years ago, I was an awkward 11-year-old; that difficult age where you’re learning what insecurity feels like without really knowing what the word means, where the rest of the world doesn’t seem much bigger than what you already know. Exactly thirteen years ago, I remember getting to school early. My history teacher had her door open before class started, and strangely, she had the TV tuned into a news station, broadcasting a picture of thick, black smoke towering over a metropolitan sprawl of buildings covered in dust and debris.
I had a dentist appointment that day, and my mom came to pick me up. I hadn’t thought much about the tragic events that had unfolded just a few hours ago, but my mom was focused intently on the radio news coverage of grounded flights and heroic servicemen. To a naïve 11-year-old, the event felt worlds away; I wanted attention on myself and to not have to listen to this dreary news report. I tried to come up with some joke and told my mom. I realized the gravity of the situation when she gave me a somber, chastising reply, worry and fear in her voice. I later learned that the events of 9/11 were not some minor happening like car accidents and gang violence I saw all the time on news outlets. This was a major calamity, killing thousands and impacting millions around the world. Nearly 2500 miles away from Ground Zero, my tiny middle school in my globally insignificant small city discussed shutting down for the day given the severity of the events. In that day, my world became much bigger.
Everyone has their own story. Everyone remembers. A user on the popular entertainment and news website, Reddit, posted the picture below yesterday, prompting many users to divulge their heartbreaking tales or their unbelievably coincidental luck. For one user, 9/11 was his first day of work. Any other day, he would have been walking his dog outside his apartment – located two blocks from the World Trade Center. After hearing the events on the radio while he was supposed to be going through new employee orientation, he rushed home and managed to crawl through the debris and chaos to rescue his dog. His wife had also been lucky, riding the subway to get groceries away from home. He struggled recounting the story, he and his family having barely made it only thanks to a combination of circumstances.
Another user talked about how he and his friends in Washington DC were planning on going to dinner that night before the attacks happened. They still wanted the company of each other and went. The restaurant was fairly empty; only about 12 people chose to dine out that night. And it was a scene you’d never imagine. All 12 of them, strangers, gathered around one table and shared a meal. They were united by tragedy; paths that had never cross or would never cross if it had been another normal day.
One user was in high school at the time, and his father was an employee in one of the WTC buildings. He didn’t hear anything about his dad until 5 PM that day. His father was lucky. Having been outside the towers when the plane hit, he managed to escape and avoid the falling debris. Lots of people commented on how silent the next couple days were; you never really notice the sounds of planes until they’re no longer in the sky. One person mentioned how her friend would have been in the towers but was running late because he decided to do something he never does: get breakfast. Another relayed a story of how he worked until 9 PM the night before and resolved that he wouldn’t go in early. Everyone has their own story. Sights, sounds, smells, and how we felt are ingrained in our memory.
For every dog who was saved, for every group of strangers who found comfort in one another’s company, for every employee who dodged the falling building or ate bagels or slept in a little, there were thousands who never made it out, who had to choose whether to jump or face smoke and fire, who were trapped above the stairwells that collapsed, who went in heroically and were engulfed by debris. These people had families and friends, and many of them still suffer. Some people wish they had not been late to a meeting with a friend, wishing that they could have been with their loved one in his last moments. Some people shared a final conversation with their spouses, hearing panicked voices hoping that they would find safety on the roof of the building.
Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy and producer of the revamped Cosmos, was supposed to be on Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles. Flight 11 was the first plane to impact the WTC. MacFarlane had woken up late, got lost trying to find his terminal, and missed his flight. He was later asked about possible “survivor’s guilt”; that feeling you get that it should have been you, not them. He didn’t believe in survivor’s guilt, and he made a good point. What happened to him and what happened to a lot of people was just a fluke. Every day in your life, MacFarlane said, a car could come too far over into your lane or you could choke on your food or a television set could fall on your arm and force you to amputate it. September 11, 2001 was a catastrophic event, and people who survive or who have lost loved ones often are filled with a guilt of a befitting magnitude. While it’s good to remember, it’s also good to forget that it could have been you. A coincidence is out of your control.
America became a nearly idealized world as everyone banded together just because of this disaster. No one knew what to expect, and everyone bonded over this; friends, family, or strangers on the street. People might lament about why we can’t have a world where you enter a restaurant and share your meal with everyone there, but it doesn’t seem realistic. The relatively intimate connection that passersby on the street would share after 9/11 only lasted for a few months. It would be wonderful if we could live in that world every day, a world where we saw the good human nature overpower and conquer the evil. It doesn’t happen though on the scale that we saw on 09/11/2001. What can still occur, and what should still occur, is that we remember. We remember what it was like for us. We remember the others who did not make. We remember the first responders who risked their own lives for others. We remember those who did what they could, donating blood or volunteering to search through and clean up debris. We remember to forget when there’s nothing we could do. And so, if you want to remember, feel free to do so here because remembering is best way we can help good to triumph over evil.