9/11 - Where were you 17 years ago today?

Forgive me if I ramble, I'm crying as I type...17 years ago. How has it been 17 years? For me it seems like yesterday. I think that happens as we get older. Time seems to fly, yet on some days and in some moments it seems like a lifetime ago.

2001: The start of my senior year in High School. We were only a month into school and riding that carefree wave knowing that in a mere few months we would all be heading off into the real world. Little did we know that everything we had ever known was about to change. I was one of the younger kids in my grade (I started school early) and was only 16 years old at the start of my senior year. Looking back, that 16 year old who thought she knew everything, knew very little. Especially how to deal with tragedy.

Homeroom:

 I remember vividly sitting in homeroom listening to the morning announcements and my friend Steven walking in late, which was pretty common. He looked pale. White as a ghost. He sat down next to me and said, "Something's happening. There was a plane crash in NY". Remember, this is before smart phones. Our only access to the world during school was the tiny tv in the classroom that may or may not have had more than 5 channels. It was less than a minute later that the bell rang and we moved on to first period. 

First Period:

Ms. Paul was (is) the sweetest. She was very laid back and relaxed, and LOVED her Seniors. We walked in, sat down and could see the tears running down her face as she told us that we wouldn't be having class and to sit down and watch. She turned the tv on right as the second plane hit. My friend Melissa screamed. I was confused. Screams of "NOOOOO" could be heard down the hallway as other teachers watched with their students. We saw people jumping from buildings to avoid being burned alive. We saw their faces. Something I'll never be able to unsee. Next, breaking footage from the Pentagon. Then President Bush from Florida followed by Mayor Giuliani.

 

I was surrounded by my best friends yet had never felt more alone. None of us had a clue that over the next few days thousands would be dead, a war would begin and a nation, our nation would be shaken. The rest of that day is a complete blur. 

 

What I do remember:

I remember the school allowing our parents to let us go home early if we wanted. I did. My mom and dad both met me at the house and I remember my mom holding a box of VHS tapes to record what was happening on the news. We still have those tapes in the basement but here we are 17 years later and I cannot watch them.

I remember watching it non-stop for days. In school, at home, at the doctor. Again, at 16 I wasn't really understanding the weight of what happened. My parents became concerned that I was becoming obsessed with the tragedy news, which by the way is very common. And I was becoming/ did become obsessed.

I remember local police and fire personnel (some of which I knew and considered family) immediately carpooling to NYC to help in the recovery effort.

I remember wanting to go. I wanted to fly up and dig through rubble. I wanted to give blood. I wanted to go to New York and make lunches for first-responders, and hug wives, husbands, children who had just lost or still couldn't get in touch with a loved one. Looking back, it was very naive of me to think I could mentally comprehend or witness Ground Zero. I barely can now.

I remember being ANGRY. Angry that I couldn't do more to help. Angry that someone would attack this country that I had grown up feeling so blessed to have been born into. Angry that I had no answers. I'm still angry, but it's no longer what I hold onto.

I remember the hope. I remember seeing a nation that would always fight racism an sexism, our pasts and present, come together as humans to help one another. There was so much hope. Skin color didn't matter. Age and sexual orientation, heritage or background didn't matter. We were there for one another. It was truly miraculous to witness.

I remember my friend Reed enlisting. My heart tore into a million pieces. Two million when I heard that John (who would later become my husband and father to my daughter) did as well. I never once asked them why, but knew there was a possibility I would never see them again. That's hard to understand at such a young age. They grew up fast. They served. They saw things no person should ever see and to this day still don't want to talk about it. They made us proud.

In 2004 I was able to visit "The Little Chapel that Stood" in NYC across from where the towers stood. You can read all about it here. Its now a memorial and people still send in cards and special notes regularly to the families, the city and we Americans from all over the world.

We all have a story from that day. We all had a different experience with 9/11. We were all changed in some way. What I wish for today is that as we remember, we never forget...the hope. There is hope for humanity but it's up to us to keep it alive, not just when there is a National Tragedy, but every single day.

Let's change the world and love a little harder,

Johnna

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