9/11; How One Day Changed The World

Fifteen years ago the world was rocked by the news that planes had struck the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Virginia and a field in Pennsylvania. Just under 3,000 people in New York lost their lives in an act that is still under scrutiny by many, but that is not the point of this post. I’m sure you’re all aware I have my conspiracies about a number of things, but this is not the time. Those who lost their lives never had the chance to really consider who had put them in such a situation. They just knew they had to act if there was any chance of staying alive.

I remember the day fairly clearly – well parts of it. I remember being in school that morning and feeling like something was off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I just felt something wasn’t normal. I was in fifth grade at the time, with more innocence than many fifth graders have these days, thanks to such acts, and my school pretty much left the decision of making the announcement in the hands of the teachers, from what I recall. I know, one way or another, that my teacher did not tell us what had happened. Being a kind, old-fashioned woman, I imagine she was still doing her best to shield us from the harsh reality that awaited us. Or perhaps she just thought it best to allow our parents to describe the situation to us.

Of course, the secret couldn’t really be kept. Some teachers did tell their students what happened, some even letting their students watch the news while the stories broke. The rumors spread between bathroom breaks and lunch break, one student who was friends with someone in a class that heard the news getting the scoop as best they could before passing it along. Before long we all knew that something had happened, but none of us at that time had the capacity for understanding how to describe just how bad it was.

After school I waited for my mother to pick me up, and heard the workers in the daycare programs talking about it in sort of hushed tones, as there were a variety of age groups gathered around. Still, I gleaned what I could from the conversation, not knowing exactly what buildings had been hit, but picking up that some planes had crashed, one not too far from my Virginia home. Once my mother arrived, the severity of the news began to sink in. She worked for a government agency at that time, in a production company that made parts for night vision goggles, missiles and mining equipment. She told me that many people had been afraid they would also be hit, adding to the panic she had felt. The radio produced a steady stream of news reports of bombings, fires, rescue attempts and a steadily rising death toll.

Once we got home I remember doing my homework and trying to study and read and write while my mother watched news reports that repeatedly showed video of the planes striking the World Trade Center, which I finally recognized as being one of the most memorable parts of the New York skyline. Reports came in of possible retaliation, and eventual bombing in the Middle East. Still with the videos coming in, the reports of death, knowing that many people had lost loved ones in the tragedy, there were two things that really brought it home to me and made me realize just how massive this was and how much it would change the world. They may seem odd, but many of you may also understand.

My mother insisted that we ride out later that evening to get gas because many reports were saying prices would begin to go up, some even suggesting a possible shortage, I think. I remember sitting in the passenger side of the car as we rode through our hometown, trying to find a gas station with lines short enough to wait in. Dozens of cars were lined up at every station we found, as everyone around us had heard the same thing we had – this was, I might add for anyone younger than myself, the last of the $1.00/gallon or less gas prices in our country – and wanted to fill up as quickly as possible. I don’t know for sure why this drove it home for me, but it was very shocking to see that sort of thing in my normally quiet town.

The other thing that really made it sink in was the radio reports that I heard while trying to sleep that night. For a bit of background; music is and has always been a huge part of my life. For many years I would sleep with the radio on all night, and eventually got a radio I could program to go off at a certain time and then be my alarm clock the next morning. Music has always been something that I use to make my life greater. That night, however, things were very different. On the Country station I listened to (I’m not that big of a country fan these days, but I was a product of my location) there was a heavy mix of news reports from all over the world about the event and the reaction to it and a barrage of exceedingly patriotic music (including, if I recall, at least one version of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American”). On the rock station I listened to they played a lot of regular music, but it was often interrupted by news reports, sound bites of people crying and sirens. I think the sirens remain one of my most disturbing memories of trying to sleep that night.

As much as I hate the cliché way it sounds, I think I lost a good portion of my innocent view of the world that night. My mother told me at least once during the evening that the world as we knew it was over. I didn’t have a clue what exactly that might mean, but as the next 15 years shaped me and made me the man I am today, I think I have a clear understating of it. Looking back at how things were before that day – a task which, for me, largely just means looking back on the 90’s – I almost can’t fathom that the world used to be such an easier place to live in. People used to care so much more about one another and be so much more free with their security measures. I will never again walk up to a building with a bag and be certain it won’t be searched. I will never be able to run into an airport ten minutes before a flight takes off and be able to make it onto the plane. My children will never know what it is like to take a plane from one place or another without having their entire person searched relentlessly.. My children will never get to see a (recent) movie about New York and see those two, gallant towers dominating the skyline.

I could go on and on about what has changed since that day, but I’m sure those of you who have read this far have probably had enough, as many of you may remember life before the events that shaped the future of U.S. Homeland Security. I would like to hear what you all remember about the day. Leave me a comment below or send me a message sharing the story of your day on September 11, 2001. Were you near one of the sites? How has your life changed since that day? I would love to hear from you and I would really appreciate it if you would share this with anyone who has a story to tell about the day.

5 thoughts on “9/11; How One Day Changed The World

  1. Very atmospheric. You painted a very clear and evocative picture of a very particular time & place of your own feelings and being witness to the shock to the community.
    Writing from the UK:
    The reaction here was of course different.
    The generational memory of the air-raid bombings of WWII and the more recent IRA campaigns and the Lockerbie Bombing, I suggest had kept the nation on a residual war-footing; bombings and terror happened as it were, we knew they would and could.
    Even so I remember someone saying their son had phoned them with the news of ‘thousands’ dead. One of my co-workers crying. Someone phoning me telling me there was a phone call for me, and I just knew it was my younger daughter calling me from 200 miles away to ask me if I had heard the news.
    Work slowed down to a stop, a silence descended. I was working in a government office that dealt with the payment of social security payments, we would have our share of angry folk, threats and even violence. A lot of the expressions of the staff became very tense, almost a ‘Don’t %*&$ with us today,’ was coming to the surface. No one did that afternoon.
    I left with another worker, I was babbling something about Middle Eastern politics but on reflection didn’t make sense. We stepped out of the building. And my colleague said:
    ‘Look the town is empty’
    The bus ride home was in silence, everyone lost in thoughts; or not aware.
    Then I arrived home and my wife and son were watching the news, we talked in circles still shaken at the enormity. I phoned my elderly parents to make sure they were ok (strange the things you do).
    My son and I talked again later, he mentioned some one had referenced Nostradamus, I dismissed that politely and went off on one of my geo-political/military/history discourses; not usually given to apocalyptic statements to family I did say ‘This is the start of World War 4, but it won’t be like the other wars’
    15 years and there is still a clear narrative running in my head.

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  2. Hey Damean,
    I think you captured your experiences really well. Mine were similar, but different. I too was in school that day. it started off like any other, I woke up, rode the bus, we said the Pledge of Allegiance and went about our day. About an hour and a half or so in to class, however, my teacher either got pulled out into the hallway ( I think). When she came back in, she looked like she was trying to hide her reaction to what she had just found out. She locked the door. She carried on with class, I guess trying to maintain some normalcy, which for a person who was old enough to really understand the severity of the situation, must have been quite difficult, now that I think about it. After that, the overhead announcement system was ringing off the hook. “Ms. Ralston, please send so-and- so to the office for early dismissal.” Students were usually excited when they heard that announcement; it meant they got to go home early, because their parents had given them permission ahead of time. But some students looked confused as they gathered up their things and left for the day so early. At first, I didn’t think much of it, I was pretty naïve I suppose. But I really started to get the feeling that something wasn’t right when at least 5 of my classmates were called for early dismissal. “What is going on?” “Why are everybody’s parents coming to get them?” “Are my parents going to come get me and Ben?”

    But no, the bell never rang asking me to come to the office for early dismissal. I rode the bus home like I always did. My brother made it in the door a few minutes before I did. As I walked in, the first thing I said to my parents, who were both already home (which was unusual as they both worked) was “What’s going on? Everybody got pulled out of school.” I remember walking into my living room, my mom sat with a hand on her forehead, they way she does when she can’t believe something. Dad sat on the edge of his seat, and he pointed to the TV. Of course the new was on, as it would be for several days. I saw the news reports. I couldn’t full comprehend what it all meant. “What is a terrorist attack? Al-Queda? What is the World Trade Center? What does this mean?” I was so confused. My dad tried to explain; he was surprisingly calm, from what I remember “Some bad people flew planes into some very important buildings in New York. The buildings fell down.” It took me a while to understand that there were innocent people in those planes and buildings and that those people had died. Even then I don’t think I fully understood how horrible it all was. It didn’t seem real. I asked my parents why they didn’t come and get me and my brother from school. All my dad could say was “I guess because I needed time to understand it myself. I didn’t want to expose you to it before I had gotten a grasp of it myself.” I couldn’t really blame him.

    Now, I grew up in Northern Virginia, and my grandmother (up until that year or the year before) lived in Crystal City, in Arlington Virginia, which is very close to DC. I had driven past the Pentagon almost every weekend or so for years. It was a building I recognized. “There’s the Washington Monument, there’s the Pentagon.” I would say every car journey. When I learned that a plane had hit there, it made it more real for me. I building that I, as a 3rd grader, recognized was now broken. It was close to home, it was close to my family. I would say I was lucky nobody we knew was there when it happened; I didn’t know anybody in the Pentagon, but I knew the Pentagon, and it had been attacked.

    I don’t remember much of that day after I found out and began to understand what had happened. The TV was on the news station for long after that as people started to unravel what happened and what could have caused it; clips of the people, of the wreckage, of the president. People commending the first responders and civilians who were just trying to help. I don’t remember if we talked a lot about it in school the next day. Looking back, I am surprised there were no counselors available if we needed someone to talk to. I guess schools weren’t really prepared for that kind of trauma back then, or maybe I just didn’t notice.

    What I did notice was how everything changed. You didn’t hear planes flying overhead anymore; all flights had been stopped. Outside recess was reduced. My mom was sad; she had to take a trip to visit my grandma and granny for a couple of weeks, though to be honest I don’t really remember her doing that very well.

    A year later was the Beltway (DC) Sniper attacks and the anthrax in the mail threats, and that’s when it all really cracked down. No more outdoor recess or gym activities. My classmates and I got so bored of the same games and activities we played again and again each day. My parents didn’t want us playing outside in our neighborhood, and we had to let them know where we were going a lot more often than before. My school ran “Mr. Blue” drills, which were code blue for a stranger/dangerous person in the building. Everyone was scared and this time it was way closer to home than before.

    These events really shaped our generation. We weren’t allowed to go outside. And if we were, it was much less free than previous generations. I became a bookworm to entertain myself. I learned words and concepts that I had never cared about. Before September 11th, I had no idea what Islam was. I grew up in a neighborhood of diverse people. I had friends from Pakistan who I had know for a large portion of my life, an still know. My little 3rd grade world of being nice to everybody and seeing everybody as the same as me, to realizing that people were different than me. But I think it was knowing the people that I knew who were so diverse that kept me grounded in all the years of accepted hatred and discrimination that came out of those events. I was able to not generalize the actions of the few who attacked us to the whole of the population they claimed to represent. Before September 11th, I didn’t know what a terrorist was, and had a hard time pronouncing it differently from tourist. Things weren’t as safe after those attacks, and people didn’t know how to react. It brought out the best and the worst in our country for a while. We stood united in not allowing anybody to hit us like that and get away with it. We were strong in our patriotism and support for those who had been affected. We were angry and it brought out some hate in us too. I don’t think people have really sat to consider how 9/11 really affected our generation, those of us who were kids, and had our innocent understanding of the world and those around us taken from us so quickly. I know we weren’t the first generation to be affected by a tragedy like this, and unfortunately we won’t be the last. But every generation’s reaction to such events are different. I think it still is shaping our generation to this day and how we feel about war, acceptance and love for one another. And I can only hope that it will continue to make us grow to be the best kind of people we can be. It is truly something that I will never forget.

    Sorry for the ridiculous length of this comment, but I felt like I had to get it out.
    Thanks for listening/reading if you made it this far. I really enjoyed your post and it made me think of my own experiences.

    Sincerely,

    Your friend,
    Ashley

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ashley,
      I’m sorry I’m just now getting to this. WordPress sometimes likes to not tell me I have comments and I have to go looking straight old posts to find them. Your story was really great and interesting. I guess I hadn’t really thought about how different it must have been for someone so much closer to one of these attacks.
      I agree that this event is still shaping and molding those who experienced it, like any event does. The strangest thing for me is knowing that now there are kids in school who weren’t even born when this happened. They have no idea why there was a war in Iraq, why old movies show a much different New York than they’ll ever see, and why there is such racism against people for the acts of a few terrible people. It’s brutal, but such is humanity.
      Thanks for taking the time to read and share! I hope you’ll stick with the blog and keep discussing on other topics, too!

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  3. I was in my Graphics shop with my students working on different projects for the School Board/county. A phone call came through to me and it was Jesse, my son, he told me that something’s going on that plane were falling from the sky’s but he was OK. He always did call me immediately after a crisis to insure me he was fine. I had know idea what was going on so I continued working with my students until break. While they were getting their treats I walked into the office to check the mail and most of the other teachers and office personnel, as well as, the Principal were watching the news in one of the offices. I startef toward where they were and at that moment a fear ran all over me and my steps seemed harder to make like I was in slo-motion. When I got closer and closer I could hear the panic on the television, when I entered the room what I saw made me so sick – a jet flying into one of the Twin Towers and then just seconds later another hit the other Twin Tower. I was frozen. My mind could not comprehend this much terror. I had to pull myself together because I had to face 15 students I knew had heard from the other students about what had happened and were full of questions. There was no way I could pull them back to focus on there projects after that level of disaster. So we sat in the classroom and just talked about what happened and at that time I did not know exactly what really happened. It wasn’t long before the buses came to pick the students up. I shut down the shop and went to the office until 3:30. Could not wait to pick up my youngest daughter and check on my oldest daughter and get home waiting for Gary to come home. We watched the news. It was awhile before what really happened and who was responsible. Yes, that day in a matter of 30 minutes, the world was changed forever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was certainly a turning point for humanity. It has made so many people hard and angry. It’s damaged already strained relationships between different cultures and religions, and it has led to the deaths of many people. I don’t know that we will, but I hope one day we can truly overcome this pain.

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