September 11, 2001
I woke up that morning to the sound of the phone ringing. When I heard my dad pad down the hall and turn on the TV, I knew instantly that something was wrong. By that time, both towers had been hit and we knew someone was out to attack our country. I thought it couldn’t get any worse—but then the Pentagon was hit and the Towers collapsed and a plane went down in Pennsylvania.
That night, Dad sat me and my sisters down to talk about what had happened. He said, “Girls, you will never forget September 11.” I knew then that we had reached a turning point in history.
Of course, some of my initial reactions to 9/11 included horror and anger at the gall of the terrorists and shock at the scale of the catastrophe they caused. But, looking back now on the days that followed the attacks, I see something besides terror and destruction.
A Beautiful Picture
As cleanup began at Ground Zero, stories and images started to surface. What emerged was a beautiful picture of heroism, courage, sacrifice, and compassion. Survivors from the World Trade Center told about the selfless strangers, mostly firefighters and police officers, who rushed up the stairs to their deaths. Evidence also revealed the heroic battle to take back United Flight 93.
Hundreds (if not thousands) of volunteers flooded New York to help with the immediate recovery efforts. My dad was one of them. A firefighter with friends in the FDNY, Dad didn’t waste any time getting to the Big Apple to assist in the cleanup and to check on his comrades.
Back at home in California, we witnessed an upsurge in patriotism. People held vigils on street corners and schools called for moments of silence at football games. Crowds at the county fair wore a sea of red, white, and blue. On a more prominent scale, NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani showed great leadership in helping his city recover, and celebrities put together concerts and events to raise funds for victims’ families.
In December 2001, my family had an opportunity to visit New York and see firsthand how people were overcoming the tragedy. We visited Ground Zero. Standing on tip toe, we could see the twisted shards of steel jutting from the rubble. To me, they looked like cathedral windows.
A large white sheet, draped across an iron fence, was covered in hand-written messages of compassion, encouragement, and hope. A volunteer group from Colorado stood at intervals holding cups full of markers and pens. I took one and added a note to the sheet.
10 Years Later
Reflecting on these memories, I see the stark contrast between the ugly hatred of the terrorists and the beautiful selflessness of the people who died saving others that day—or have given their health, time, and money to help in the recovery. I’m reminded of the final lines from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (himself in the midst of a great trial when he wrote this):
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”
There are some things that even terrorists cannot destroy or conquer. When I tell my children about September 11, 2001, I will tell them that even as we witnessed the worst of humanity that day, we also witnessed the best.