Today, fifteen years following one of the greatest tragedies ever to take place on our nation's soil, Americans everywhere reflected on what this day means to them. Whether you were in NYC, DC, or Pennsylvania on that day or if you were sitting on your couch watching the footage from the safety of your living room thousands of miles away, each and every one of us was affected by what occurred on 9/11/01.
Last October I finally visited the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City. It was as painful and beautiful as I expected it to be. Reliving the fear and sadness from that day brought back a flood of emotions that I had locked up for over fourteen years. Today, as I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed and saw all of the pictures and videos people were sharing in memory of those who died on 9/11/01, that same sadness and anxiety began to resurface.
I was twenty-three years old, working as a receptionist for a corporate real estate company in a high rise building in Boston. I was fresh out of college and new to adulthood. When the news of the terrorists attacks reached me, I opted to stay at work all day and help ease the fears of the hundreds of tenants in our office building (the company I worked for managed the office building in which we worked). We never ordered an evacuation but eventually every company that worked in our building left; the building was basically empty before 5 p.m. that day - I can assure you that never ever happened before or after that day. In fact, it seemed like the entire city of Boston was empty by 5 p.m. that day; when I got on the commuter train to head home at 5:30, the train car I sat in was completely empty except for me and the train conductor collecting tickets. If you have ever taken a commuter train from a city during rush hour on a work day, you know that getting a seat is a big deal because the train cars are always jam-packed, so an empty train car at 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday is completely bizarre. The empty building, empty city, and empty train felt surreal and apocalyptic.
September 11, 2001 was hands down the most terrifying day of my life. Hundreds of people were lighting up our switchboard at work, many screaming at me, demanding to know if we were in danger and if the building was going to be evacuated because they were afraid and didn't know if our city was in danger. I don't know how I did it but I managed to keep my cool for hours on end; I remained stoic and professional and I answered every single phone call that came in. My boss finally came over and told me to take a break and she insisted on covering the phones for me; when she relieved me of my duties, I went into the single stall bathroom in our suite, sat down on the floor, and cried hysterically. I cried so hard I couldn't breathe. I just kept thinking over and over again, "This is it, this is the end of the world". And at that moment in time, I truly believed that to be true.
The world as I know it changed forever that day. I have always been an anxious person, constantly worrying about things I can't control, but after 9/11/01, that anxiety became bigger and more forceful and it settled in my heart and my head permanently. The realization that I am not safe, that I could be killed on an airplane, or in an office building, or walking down the street, was startling. It was scary to know that my life is at risk every day. And that I just had to accept this and move on. I realize now that before 9/11, I was still a child who believed she was immortal. After that day fifteen years ago, my mortality became real, and whatever little bit of innocence I still had at that point in time, was abruptly snatched away...forever.
I watched the news every single day for about two years following that fateful day. I kept waiting for another terrorist attack. It was years before I felt secure again; but even though a lot of time has passed and I am not as terrified as I was fifteen years ago, I never went back to feeling as secure as I did before the attacks on 9/11. I don't think anyone did.
When I see photos and footage from 9/11 now, many years later, it feels as though it happened only yesterday, and the terrifying loss of innocence I experienced that day comes screaming back to me. But today I tried to take a different approach to remembering 9/11/01; instead of focusing on the pain and fear from that day, I tried to focus on the love. After that terrible day, our country came together in a way I had never seen before. Our nation proved that despite race, religion, social status, and political affiliation, above all else we are Americans, and we would not stand for anyone attacking our brothers and sisters. What happened on 9/11 was despicable and disgusting and we would not lie down and allow evil to overcome us. American flags were in every window, on every car, on every house. In fact, I remember that American flags were actually on backorder for months because people were buying them faster than they could be produced. The swell of love and togetherness was so powerful and overwhelming, you could almost feel it physically, even from across the country. Strangers were suddenly family, and the support was unending. In the face of tragedy we didn't turn on one another or blame one another, we came together and remained united.
I think it's important to remember the love and resilience that came out of 9/11/01. I think we owe it to the people who died that day to focus on that and not to allow the fear and anxiety to overcome us. I won't ever forget that day, but from now on I will try to keep the memory of that love and resilience in my heart - not just on the anniversary of 9/11 - but every single day.