The Day America Changed Forever

September 11, 2019 | Arielle Lowe | Editor

Where were you when the world stopped turnin’ that September day?        -Alan Jackson

I remember being in fourth grade, wondering why all of my teachers were so sad.

I had just been dropped off at school for what I thought would be another normal day of fourth grade. In the small town where I grew up in Indiana, the elementary schools started at 8:45 a.m. Each day Mr. Howe’s class started with circle time in the back corner of the room where we would play a game and hear announcements before starting lessons for the day.

The school announcements had just ended and I was hoping we would play one of my favorite games when the overhead intercom crackled, that caused a moment of confusion as one of the lady’s in the office had just signed off. Rather than a female voice, it was a male, the principal’s voice that said “Something is happening in New York. If everyone promises to be quiet and behave, we’re going to see if we can play the radio over the intercom so everyone can hear.”

New York? I thought as I looked at my teacher’s whose face mirrored my own confusion.

Soon my principal’s voice was replaced by another male voice, this one panicked as it talked about smoke coming out of a tower and then exclaimed, “They hit the other one! Another plane flew into the second tower!”

I didn’t understand. My teacher looked scared and had tears in his eyes. The radio kept playing for what felt like hours but was most likely only five or ten minutes. The principal came back on the intercom and said that he would keep everyone updated whenever new information became available.

We didn’t play a game and were told to go back to our desks and read quietly. while another teacher came into talk to Mr. Howe.

Throughout the rest of the day, all of the teachers were subdued, sad, with many wiping tears when they thought students weren’t looking.

The principal came on the intercom several more times throughout the day telling us, the students, that we were safe and to tell our parents that they didn’t have to pick us up. I didn’t have a phone and with my mom being a teacher at the local high school, I knew I would only be picked up if I was really, really sick.

I started the day with 25 students in my class and ended with five, including me. I knew something had happened in New York City, something bad. But that was it. The adults were only talking to each other.

After getting off the bus and walking into the house, I walked down the stairs and sat on them as I watched my mom do laundry and call everyone she knew.

“Are you okay? Did you know anyone? Have you heard who did it?” These were some of the questions I heard my mom repeat, and after listening to a few phone calls I grew impatient.

“Mom, why are you calling everyone? We don’t know anyone in New York,” I asked still unaware of the catastrophic events of the day.

It wasn’t until three years later, when my seventh grade Social Studies teacher asked us where we had been on 9/11 that the full extent and the magnitude of a terrorist attack on our own soil and all of the lives lost, both civilian in the towers and first responders trying to save lives, did I understand. Everything about that day clicked into place, the principal’s shaky voice, the radio announcer’s terror and the sadness of the adults.

It has been 18 years since the attack on the twin towers on September 11, 2001, occurred. Every adult old enough to remember this day has an answer to the question “Where were you…?” Every year the common phrase that is said, heard, and seen is “never forget.” And while it’s true that we as a country will never forget, for young adults and teenagers it’s different, as they don’t have a first-hand connection to the date or a tangible memory to hold onto.

Recently, my sister and I were discussing our memories of 9/11. My older sister had been in sixth grade, and as the middle school had TVs in the room, she’d seen the second plane hit the second tower. My brother is younger than I am by four years and had been in Kindergarten at the time; he said that he knew it was a tragedy but that he didn’t have a specific memory to tie to the day. It is both a blessing and a shame. At first, I couldn’t believe that my brother didn’t tear up or grow emotional over talking about 9/11.

It is here where the collective memory of our nation’s day of mourning steps in, with stories from first responders, survivors or family members of those that were lost. We, as a country, have healed and progressed but that does not mean we will forget.

It is very likely that those my age are the last to directly remember that day. I cannot hear “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) by Alan Jackson without crying.

On this 18th anniversary, it is our job to ensure that future generations not only remember the tragedy and impact of this day but also the heroism and courage that was displayed.

I will never forget the attack, the victims or the heroes.

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