I remember September 11, 2001, in vivid detail, despite being thousands of miles from Ground Zero or having any direct connection with the victims, it still affected me deeply. Recently, in reading through a CNN timeline of events, the memories began to pour in like it happened yesterday, yet it was a decade ago.
I was pregnant with my daughter at that time, and I had been having some complications for several weeks. On the morning of September 11, 2001, completely unaware of anything unusual, I got up before the rest of my family to get ready for the day. I turned on the computer to say good morning to my friends on an online message board for expectant mothers. I was shocked to see thread after thread that had been posted about an airliner going into the World Trade Center, some of these woman were very close to ground zero that day. Alarm spread me through me as I quickly turned on the television.
The news was filled with unanswered questions, confusion and rumors; no one was really sure what had happened. In utter astonishment, I watched what had happened up until that point. The first jetliner had entered the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The newscasters at first thought this must have been some sort of accident. But then, as I was watching, the second plane crashed into the South Tower, and I, along with millions of others, watched it live. I remember at first thinking it couldn’t possibly be another plane, how could that happen? They played it back again and again, and the realization began to sink in. This was no accident. It soon became clear this was an act of terrorism.
I continued to watch, trying to take it all in while the media scrambled for answers. About 20 minutes later, in total disbelief, I watched live as the South Tower collapsed on camera in front of me and all of the other viewers. Fear, horror, terror, sadness, worry, anger ... all were rushing through me as I watched, none of us knowing exactly what happened until the smoke began to clear and we saw the building was no longer there. This was followed by the second collapse about half an hour later. Where two landmark buildings once stood, only smoke and empty sky remained. In the meantime, another plane had gone into the Pentagon, while another went down into a field in Shanksville, PA.
All the things the terrorists wanted us to feel, complete fear and helplessness, we were feeling. Their plot to terrorize the U.S. had worked. But did they win?
I kept my kids home from school that day, because I didn’t know exactly what was happening, and knowing that all four planes, so far, had been destined for San Francisco and Los Angeles. How many more were out there? Where were they headed? It had all just happened, and there was so much that we didn’t know. I thought we would spend the day together, if it just meant trying to put the pieces together, knowing that a lot of local families were mourning the losses of family and friends on that day as well.
I remember driving to a doctor’s appointment that afternoon. I can still see the somber gaze in every person I spoke to at the clinic and the look of sadness and disbelief on my doctor's face. When I was driving, the roads were very quiet. As I glanced at other drivers, it was clear we were all feeling the same. It was also very strange to me that all air traffic had stopped; no planes were allowed to fly. This had never happened in my entire life. It was eerie.
The thoughts that were in my head, as well as every other one of those moms-to-be on that online message board were the same. Our babies were all due within two months of that date. What kind of place would this be for our children?
Here I was 3,000 miles away, and I felt that life as I knew it had been completely rearranged. I felt that things would never be the same again. The terrorists may have hit a small section of the U.S. but they managed to shoot us right in the heart.
My daughter was born three weeks early, which happened to be close to the one month anniversary date of 9/11. It was an emergency birth, and it turned out that she probably would have died if she hadn’t been delivered at that time. There might not have been a lot of hope and happiness in our country, but in my family, we were very grateful for our little bundle of hope, our own personal miracle all wrapped up in a little pink blanket, with our own set of heroes…the doctors, nurses and the medical team who saved her life.
A nurse at the hospital that day told me that it was a good thing she wasn’t born on the one month anniversary of 9/11. That comment stuck with me all this time because it really made me wonder. Would the wound always be so fresh and painful and that we would remember the 11th day of every month as an anniversary?
Fast forward 10 years later, and here we are today. Has the world changed? Did the terrorists win or has this made us stronger as individuals, wanting to fight harder and to be more aware of what is going on in the world?
Since that time, I have learned to speak out, to help others and to be strong. I became very aware and vowed not to let the terrorists win or to have me live in fear. I wanted to reach out and help others that day, more than I ever had in my life. Today, I am volunteering, I am writing, I am helping my community. I am not alone.
I am in touch almost daily with those same women from that original message board and our friendship is as strong as ever. We have a bond that can never be broken, and part of that bond may be how we shared the uncertainty of life after 9/11, and we walked through the past 10 years together, hand in hand. It is still very painful to remember that day, and I think it is important not only to remember the pain and mourn the losses, but to also look forward with hope about the future and to know that we are strong.
I have talked to many people from the New York City area, and every one of them has told me a similar story. They mourn the losses, they are grateful to the heroes, but they are strong and have moved forward in rebuilding the city, as well as rebuilding lives and their community. They have emerged stronger than ever before.
Maybe it affected me so deeply in part because we, as Americans, take our safety for granted each day. That is a good thing that we don’t live in fear for our lives when we leave our houses or even in our own homes, as many people in the world do or have lived through in the past.
I remember the heroes on that tragic day, many of them died trying to save others. Many heroes didn’t know if they would make it out alive, but nothing stopped them from doing what needed to be done. They went ahead anyway, putting the safety of others ahead of their own lives.
I know our country still has a lot of work to do. In fact, we are a country that is politically divided right now; very much so and possibly more than ever before. But underneath all the politics and all that divides our citizens, if you look closely, you will find real people who have real beating hearts that are filled with great compassion and they would not think twice about helping others in a time of need, even at the cost of their own lives.
I see my daughter 10 years later. She has a strong voice, cares about everyone and every creature and wants to help the world. She looks to the future with aspirations as high as the sky, and has the freedom to choose whatever those aspirations might be. She doesn’t live in fear; she lives a life that is very full of hope and joy. I can look back at my thoughts from 10 years ago and compare them to now, and really it feels like the time has passed in only a nanosecond.
My daughter was born during a time of great uncertainty, yet here she is now, showing me that life goes on. She is a testimony to the healing and renewal that time brings after great loss. I just have to take one look at her and I know the answer to my question. No, they didn’t win. Not at all.