I’ve been thinking about the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 a lot. I have many times revisited and retold my experience of the day, and how it affected me for years afterward. Because we’ve reached something of a milestone, I’d like to talk about my small piece of the shared experience of that day, to show my respect for the victims and their families, and to share how the memory of 9/11 makes me feel.
I was 21 years old, a senior at George Washington University, on 9/11. I was still asleep when the first tower of the World Trade Center was hit, and my mother called.
“Jen, everyone here is OK, but go turn on your television.”
Of course, at first we all stood around the television, in shock, watching as the second tower was hit. We then heard about the Pentagon and were very, very afraid that something else would happen in D.C. But quickly people started wanting to do something. What strikes me now as I look back on the reactions of my roommates and friends who lived in the dorm with me is how telling of our futures our actions that day were.
First, I’ll mention my two roommates who were employees of the Smith Center, the athletic center where GW held its basketball games and which housed the gym and classrooms for exercise classes. One was already there, working. The other suited up almost immediately in her work garb and ran over there to help, because when we called the other to beg her to come home, she refused and said they needed her there to help man the building. What are they doing now, 10 years later? Working for the government and working in insurance.
One dear friend of mine brought out the biggest pots we could find and cooked spaghetti for the entire floor, after we had stared at the television, transfixed, without eating, for the entire day. What is she doing now, 10 years later? Working as a creative director for an amazingly famous restaurant group.
Another friend corraled all the lost souls who hadn’t eaten all day into our room, just so we could be together. What is she doing now? She’s an art therapist.
What did I do? I observed. I wrote in my journal. What am I doing now? I’m a journalist and editor.
It fills my heart up to remember how much we cared about and for each other, and everyone in the entire country, that day. 9/11 spurred us all on to make ourselves better and to help one another. In my little analogy it is fitting that I became a writer, but that day also was a factor in my decision to sign up for the AIDSRide, a 3-day, 350-mile bike ride from North Carolina to D.C., the following spring. Since then I’ve participated in and raised money for 8 long-distance cycling charity events. By Thanksgiving this year, it’ll be 10.
It also amazes me that young adults barely remember it. I understand now what it feels like to be asked by a younger person, “What was that day like for you?” about a pivotal day in history. I don’t know how parents will explain it to their children or teachers to their students. It will sound impossible, but it happened.
WHYY radio ran a piece last night about Lukens Steel, a now-defunct steel company based very near my home town, which produced much of the steel that held up the twin towers. Some of the steel has returned home and will be turned into a memorial in Coatesville, PA (Steel ‘trees’ from World Trade Center return to Coatesville). And my own high school applied for and was given a piece of the steel to display in its lobby. The teacher who helped to apply for it said he hoped it would help remind the kids of the gravity of that day, even if they don’t remember it.
So, what I’m left with is hope. Even when we’re given the worst of the worst situations, we can all make something good of it. That’s what I’ve carried with me for the last 10 years, and it has shaped my actions and reactions in the lowest moments of my life. I hope that honors the victims of the people we lost on 9/11 and their families and friends.