Sept. 11, 2001—it’s hard to believe that that date was 14 years ago. Every year that it comes up, for me, it still feels like it was just yesterday.
I was a fifth grader at Saxe at the time. And on this day, every year, I still am. I obviously have grown up. I’m 24 years old now and in the 14 years that have happened since, have lived my life with a terrific sense of accomplishment. I have seen so many of my peers, some of whom I was in the same room with that day, many of whom I was in the same school as, accomplish terrific things as well.
But on Sept. 11, I am always forced to go back to that tragic morning—back into the eyes and body of that 10-year-old boy. It is our unforgettable tragedy.
Even at 10 years old, the events of that day, specifically when the World Trade Center was burning and later collapsed, are so vivid, as are my emotions and those of everyone around me.
Our nation was attacked. Our freedom was attacked. And from the view of a 10-year-old boy, the innocence of youth was attacked.
It’s why I share this story. Because while I, thankfully, wasn’t physically in New York City, Washington D.C. or Pennsylvania that day—still, each day since has been impacted by the events that occurred in those three places on Sept. 11, 2001.
It was a Tuesday, bright and sunny. There was not a cloud in the sky. I believe we started school at 8:20 a.m. that year, or some time around then. I had Mrs. Stephanie Moore for that school year, and the school day began with a lesson taught by her.
After about 40 minutes, we then took a break for snack time. In fifth grade, you still only had one teacher for the majority of the day, only leaving their classroom to go to the specials (art, music, P.E.), science, lunch, and most (but not all) had a different math teacher. So it was not a big deal to take a 10-minute break for a snack, even though we all just began the day less than an hour ago.
A couple minutes into our snack time, though, the P.A. system came on throughout the school. It was the school’s principal, Mr. Macedo. He instructed all teachers to turn on their TV’s and change to the news.
TV’s in a classroom—that was something that when I first walked into that classroom one week prior, I thought was pretty cool. We never had that at South. I remember a librarian or A.V. person always having to bring a TV to us if we were going to watch a movie. Now there was no need as there was one mounted on a wall in every classroom at Saxe.
Of course I figured that it would never be turned to live TV. We were at school after all. And while I noticed that ESPN was on the channel lineup when I walked by it one of the first few days, I wasn’t holding my breath for SportsCenter to be turned on during snack time.
But when my classmates and I heard the announcement that our teacher was going to turn on the TV, excitement echoed throughout the room. We were 10-year-olds: Why would we think that the school would show us anything bad?
I vividly remember a classmate of mine, amid the celebration in the room for the TV about to be turned on, said, “Finally, we get to watch some TV!”
When the screen turns on and you see the World Trade Center’s on fire, with thick smoke going into the New York City air, you never forget hearing words like that.
You may recall from my back-to-school article last month how difficult of an adjustment it was for me to be going to a school with so many entirely new faces. Just one week earlier, most of my classmates in Mrs. Moore’s class were complete strangers. And now I was watching with those strangers the World Trade Center burn, and our entire world changing right before our eyes.
Now it may say something about me at that age when one of my first thoughts after seeing the Twin Towers burning was that the Mets would probably not play that night’s game. The team made the World Series the year before, and they were holding onto hope of a wild card playoff berth coming down the stretch in 2001. I was infatuated with the team and the sport, so I feel that it was natural for a 10-year-old boy to wonder if he was not going to be able to watch his favorite team play that September night. I remember wondering if any team would play that night.
Neither the Mets nor any other MLB team played. In fact, no MLB game would be played until the following Monday.
The events of that day brought perspective to the world, and by the end of that morning, I had a great deal of it as well—knowing that the life we live would not be the same for quite a while, if ever.
I was surprised at how long Mrs. Moore kept the TV on. For something that was so horrible to watch, the TV was left on for quite some time. I credit that to the shock of the moment: Your just eyes couldn’t pull away, despite the severe horror of the image we were seeing.
However, I believe it was turned on after the South Tower was hit (which my dad and others have recalled to me they saw live), and was turned off before the tower collapsed.
I recall going to math class in Mrs. Hohl’s room across the hall soon after the TV was turned off. Mrs. Hohl just spoke to us, huddled on the carpet in the front of the class, with tears in her eyes through most of the 40-minute period. I believe she had family in the city that day, and wasn’t sure of neither their whereabouts nor safety, so it was very difficult for her at that time.
I had family in the city that day as well. One of my cousins went to high school in New York and my uncle, my cousin’s dad, was working in Manhattan.
My Uncle Vic recalled to me, “I had to walk from my office at 50th and 6th to Eric’s (my cousin’s) school at 85th and 3rd to meet him. All the transportation in the city was disrupted that day and they wouldn’t let the students go without an adult to meet them. By the time I went to meet him in the afternoon, the streets uptown were strangely quiet and it was a beautiful day were it not for the cloud of smoke in the far distance as you looked downtown. I felt guilty having such a pleasant day to walk when there was so much suffering.”
My aunt’s (my uncle’s wife) uncle was on the 65th floor of the North Tower when the first plane hit it. And as my uncle told me, “Sensing something was wrong when he felt a thump and felt the building sway, he headed immediately for the fire exit and walked down the 65 flights. He didn’t even know what happened until he was several blocks away from the building.”
I was certainly lucky to not have anything happen to them or anyone else I personally know during the tragic events that occurred on that day. Most would say that I was fortunate. However, no one in America, or the world for that matter, that day would I consider fortunate.
And now it’s been 14 years. I recall the date in 2002 when we had a moment of silence in school at the times that the North Tower (8:46 a.m.) and the South Tower (9:03 a.m.) were hit. I recall sophomore year of high school in 2006, talking about it in history class as it had been five years since that day; and again when I was a freshman in college in English 101 (401 at UNH), eight years after; and then when I was a junior on the 10th anniversary.
Then in 2013 I was at a New Canaan Rams football game, the first of the season, the first I attended as a college graduate. And I remember getting emotional during a moment before the game when they honored the fallen from that day in 2001, as well as those we have lost serving in wars that were a result of the attacks that day, with a song that described looking at the world through a child’s eyes.
I got emotional because it took me back to that day, when I was living with child’s eyes. And it’s why every year on this date I go back to living that way, feeling that no matter how old I get, on this date I will always be 10.
The world has changed a lot since. You can’t walk into an airport without taking off parts of your clothing nor even approach security without your I.D. proving the name on the ticket is you. Nor can you, in a major league ballpark or stadium, walk in without being put through a metal detector and/or patted down – or have your bags checked. And that’s only a couple venues that have been impacted by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
I also believe, to some degree, collectively as humans we have become more skeptical in the time since then. Meaning that I feel we don’t automatically give someone the benefit of the doubt much anymore but rather rush to doubt someone’s intentions who we do not know, even if they sound good.
I believe we are more aware of what’s around us and more careful as a society in the time that’s past—which can be a good thing, but also prevents living life with a more “carefree” feeling. And I believe that another effect of that day is that we wonder if we are ever, truly, safe at home.
However, the extra security measures that are taken these days are by no means an inconvenience. While they can never guarantee that nothing bad will happen when you’re at the venue you’re at, they do a pretty darn good job of trying. And while we may be more cautious now than then, I still believe humans are incredibly kind towards strangers. And, as of right now, I do think we live in as safe a nation as possible. There can never be a guarantee that man-made tragedies won’t happen.
I said to myself recently, and believe it applies to this discussion as much as any other, that the human mind is an endless spectrum—limitless. It can think of anything and is capable of everything. It can be used for good, and most of it is. The world we live in today wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t. However, it can also be used for bad. And unfortunately, people in this world, through fault of their own or not, do make the choice to use it for that.
My classmates and I were shielded from seeing, live, the South Tower get hit and collapse. But we were not shielded from the tragedy entirely. Nor was anyone else that day who’s my age or older and was in a New Canaan Public School (and many other places). We cannot be shielded from tragedies such as these. All we can do is do our best as humans to live our lives with kindness, and hope that those who serve in a field that protects our freedoms do so to the best of their abilities, which though not perfect, I honestly feel, overall, is true.
This day is difficult for me and many I know. It’s difficult for me because of what I have described but also because of when in my life it occurred.
In fifth grade, I started at a new school; met a ton of new people; had my first two MRI’s after a doctor thought I had cancer in my knee (I didn’t); but wore a brace to school for a week or so because of the pain that I felt; lost the class election for student council representative by one vote; started playing my dad’s clarinet in band class; experienced my first magazine drive at Saxe; saw the first Harry Potter movie twice because the first time I went the film strip burned; learned about the history of whaling; developed my first legitimate crush on a girl; started my first of four years in Walter Schalk; danced with said girl I had a crush on which made my heart pound; pitched for the first time in a baseball game; had shingles during the baseball season; and saw Mrs. Moore in the Memorial Day Parade playing her bagpipes in her kilt.
All of those could have easily been the most memorable thing of that year for me—but they aren’t. And they aren’t because of Sept. 11, 2001.
We must never forget this day. I plead to those who pray or wish something positive for someone else, to do that tonight for the men and women who lost their lives on this date 14 years ago. And to also do that for the men and women who have served our country, either overseas or stateside, to protect our freedoms that were attacked 14 years ago, living or deceased, and for the families of both.
They all deserve our support because on this day, and I believe every day, we must remember that we are all Americans and we all are humans. And we are here today, in part, because we have those who are willing to protect us from the danger that exists in life, the best that they can.