A candle on a bookcase

My earliest and clearest childhood memory is Sept. 11, 2001. I am not sure now how much of this recollection is factual and how much has been altered by my imagination and childhood dramatics over the years. I was 4 years old, and my childhood felt drastically different after that Tuesday morning.

I was in preschool when the first plane hit the tower. Although it’s been 19 years now, I can still see my white Keds with pink and blue sneaker charms tapping the classroom floor as I looked down and rocked off the ground in my chair.

It was still early in the morning. I was waiting impatiently to be able to play when I noticed the look on my teacher’s face. Her demeanor normally appeared to be stoic and in charge, especially to a 4-year-old who was not exactly prone to obedience or great listening skills. That day, my teacher looked shocked rather than authoritative and calm, and it grabbed my attention.

That day my teacher looked shocked rather than authoritative and calm, and it grabbed my attention.

Perhaps, my life itself didn’t change much after 9/11. I was only a child. My family was OK, and we didn’t lose anyone in New York, Pennsylvania or Virginia. Yet, we were angry and a little more fearful. My childhood, the way I’d known it, was over. I was terrified of something that had happened far away.

I didn’t sleep well at night knowing there were people who chose to be so cruel. I didn’t feel safe in large spaces or on airplanes once I found out there had been plenty of children who had lost their lives that day. In my four years of life, I had not known America long, but what I knew of it changed.

In the past 19 years, it seems as though the United States has been at war, overseas or internally amongst ourselves. Much of the unity our nation experienced directly following 9/11 is seemingly gone. Still, every year on the anniversary of 9/11, lights shine into the Manhattan night sky where the Twin Towers once stood. 

Every year on the anniversary of 9/11, lights shine into the Manhattan night sky where the Twin Towers once stood.

The long lines at airport security became normal, as did the screenings at the entrances to public transportation, museums, concerts and sporting events. I do not know a world where flying does not mean standing with my arms above my head in a plastic tube as I’m screened or where, “See Something, Say Something,” is not plastered to the walls of every airport or train station. 

Nearly 20 years later, there is still something to be said about patriotism in the United States. Perhaps it means more, or a little something different, to be an American now than it did before Sept. 11. Perhaps that sense of unity is not quite lost.

There are other days of national tragedy like the Oklahoma City bombing at the Murray Building or the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, but the gravity of 9/11 truly rocked our nation to its core. For every American who was old enough to remember, 9/11 is forever etched in our memories as a day of loss at the highest level, a day of collective mourning and a day of unity as a nation. We will never forget.

Do you remember where you were on 9/11? How can tragic events shape us as human beings?

Image via Raisa Zwart Photography

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