2001, oh man what a year that was! It was the year I graduated high school. I remember laughing with the girl next to me through all of it, even though we didn’t get along for four years. We only remembered seeing maybe half the people who walked the stage, so we mocked and joked about that for hours.
It was the year I got my very first apartment. I had a roommate who was a very good friend of mine. We enjoyed the same things and she lacked seriousness as much me. We were the epitome of newly freed, broke, drunk eighteen year olds. We painted a Christmas tree on our wall because we didn’t have enough money to buy one. We also had our friends leave messages on our walls with chalk; we were cool and artsy. A word of warning to you newly freed youngsters: even if the paint says washable, it’s not coming off drywall. Even if rain water washes chalk away from the driveway, water and soap won’t take it off your walls.
It was the year I became a Christian. Thank God it only took 6 months of stupidity in freedom before that. It was the greatest moment in my life. I’ve talked about this before and I don’t want to downplay the significance of that event, because I would be dead if that hadn’t happened, but there’s something maybe a little less poignant and equally jarring I remember.
It was the year of 9/11 – the attack on the U.S. I can still remember everything about that day. Every year on this day it’s all brought back to me. I was a cook in the mall’s only food court restaurant and had to be there before 9. I left the house at 8:40ish, and at 8:46 my jam was interrupted on the radio to talk about a plane hitting some building. I very clearly remember saying out loud, “Who cares? I don’t even know where that is.”
I remember going through my duties wishing for my bed or a strong drink. Our food court didn’t typically see anyone until 9:30 or 10, so I finished my prep and went up front to turn on the lights and watch the big screen TV while I had my morning Dr. Pepper. That TV was almost always on some entertainment show, but on that morning, the customer service manager was in the middle of the court with the remote in hand watching the news. When they replayed the footage of the first tower hitting I remember thinking I could sort of see why it was a big deal.
I remember watching the second plane hit the second tower at 9:03. I remember my shock and horror at seeing it hit. That’s when I noticed the bodies jumping from buildings. I may have been selfish, but I wasn’t made of stone. I remember how heavy my heart felt; how tortured I felt for those people and their families. At about 9:30 I remember watching the officers from each branch speed walk into the food court. It seems prudent to mention that every military branch had their recruiting offices in our mall.
I remember they were all dressed in their uniforms and stood at attention with their arms crossed. About 15 minutes later, all their cell phones rang at once. I remember thinking how absolutely scary that was, and how much more terrifying it was when they sprinted from the food court at the same time. A half hour later, they calmly reappeared in their civilian clothes. I remember wondering if we were actually in danger. That was when I remembered to call my uncle to see if my semper fi cousin was okay.
The only people we saw that day were either mall employees (a lot of mall employees) and the occasional shopper. I remember being annoyed at customers interrupting the news. I remember getting off of work and going straight to Grandma’s house to see if she knew the happenings. She was freaked out about gas prices spiking and not having enough canned goods, so I took her to lunch and to fill her car and pantry.
I remember having four friends in that week join the reserves. I remember being unable to think of anything but this for days. I remember being at Grandma’s house (she had the pretty, pretty cable) every day watching the news and scouring the internet. I even remember watching the live feed of the first nighttime touch down in Afghanistan.
Today, 15 years later, I still remember those things. I re-watched the footage with the girls today and told them what it meant. 6 YO very gently and compassionately took a napkin and wiped my tears. As she patted my shoulder and stopped me from wiping them away myself she said, “Mom, you don’t have to that. I’ll wipe them away for you.” She has the same heart of compassion that existed in the wake of 9/11. She has the desire to comfort that we all had for our fellow Americans in the months to follow 9/11.
This day and the footage from that day will never cease to bring out those emotions. I will always remember these things. I will never forget the palpable shift and the sacrifices made on that day.
We watched first responders walk into those buildings knowing they wouldn’t survive but going in to save the lives of others anyway. We heard the recordings of airline passengers choosing the lives of others over their own.
There were so many heroes and noble sacrifices made on 9/11; we will never forget you or what you’ve done. Thank you seems like such a small word, but we mean it just the same.