On September 11, 2001 I was a 6th grader in a Catholic school in Northern Illinois.
Until that day, I had been a child. My biggest worry was who would hang out with me during recess or if I had cool shoes. That morning, I knew very quickly that something out of the ordinary was happening. My principal, who I never saw in the halls, was walking from class to class with a small note in her hand. She walked into our classroom, handed the note to our teacher mid-lecture, said something under her breathe and left. I saw such a range of emotions on my teacher’s face during the few seconds she read the note. I knew something was wrong. My teacher didn’t let anything slip though. She kept on with her lesson like nothing was wrong.
During my next class, our principle got on the PA and directed us all to the small chapel on the lower floor. We got in line and walked quietly, all wondering why we were going to the chapel. This wasn’t our usual Mass day, and that we did in the church. When all the classes were situated in the chapel, my principal stood in the aisle and told us something horrible had happened in New York City. She said she didn’t know the details, but many people had been killed or injured and that we needed to pray for them. We had a small prayer service. I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened. What could be going on outside that was so bad they interrupted school? My 11 year old brain couldn’t fathom something like terrorists or suicide bombers or killing for your religion.
Throughout the day, some parents picked up their children. That was when I started to get really worried. Whatever was going on was so bad that they had to pull kids from school. When school ended, I got on the bus to go to my babysitter’s house and she had the news on. I sat glued to the TV soaking in every detail. What they thought had been an accident was really something someone did intentionally. I couldn’t understand. The people who took over the planes knew they would die too, didn’t they? Why would they do something like this? I didn’t understand how strongly people could hate. I had seen the video of the towers going down repeatedly by the time my mom called and told my babysitter not to let me see the news.
My world grew so much that day. My whole life had been school and my immediate family. Now I had a much more global view. I was overwhelmed by the idea that someone could have so much hate that they were capable of doing something like this, but I was also amazed by our reactions. I’m sure there were pundits pointing fingers, but at almost 12 years old all I saw were neighbors helping other neighbors hang flags and exchanging hugs and shoulders to cry on.
Even then, I didn’t really understand what the attacks meant. They have certainly shaped a lot of my beliefs and perspectives since. It’s hard for me not to get teary when I think about that day and it hits me harder every year. The memory is there everyday, but something as significant as an anniversary really brings up the details. As terrible as it makes the world seem, it also proved how wonderful and compassionate humans can be. I try to think about that when the memory seems too painful. My heart is completely broken for everyone in New York and Washington D.C. that day and for everyone who lost a loved one.